Number one for English language teachers

Anecdote: Speak no evil

Type: Anecdote

Cathy Eggleston shares a winning anecdote about the difficulties of dealing with a silent student and overcoming the problem by learning some Vietnamese!

I used to teach in France, and one of the students that I remember best was a young man from Vietnam. He had lived in France from the age of about 10 and when I became his teacher he was a highly qualified engineer but struggling to get a job in Paris.
 
In the first (one-to-one) lesson he told me that he was at an intermediate level in English and wanted to become fluent and do lots of speaking practice because he thought that having good English would improve his career prospects. Unfortunately, from that point onwards, I found it almost impossible to get him to say more than three English words in a row. I spent a few tiring lessons desperately trying to get him to answer questionnaires or discuss articles with me but he just seemed sullen and non-communicative. I would emerge from every lesson exhausted and with a sore throat as I had had to do 95% of the talking while he stared at me with what seemed like hatred in his eyes. I couldn't understand it!
 
Then, one day, I started to ask him about his experience of coming to France and learning French, and he started to teach me some Vietnamese. He was quite a strict teacher and eventually it emerged that he had been teased a lot as a child about his Vietnamese accent when he spoke French, which meant that he was now worried about the same thing happening in his English lessons. After a few of my very embarrassing attempts at pronouncing Vietnamese words he seemed to decide that it didn't matter if he wasn't perfect at English straight away because he couldn't possibly sound as ridiculous as his English teacher, and he finally started speaking. He made good progress from then on and I think both of us were extremely relieved!

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