Number one for English language teachers

Friday 29th October: All the hours of the week

Type: Reference material

In her third diary entry, Maria Alamanou feels embrassed about dreaming in English

My days seem to have developed a knack for repeating themselves lately. No sooner have I managed to crawl out of bed in the morning than it’s bedtime again. All the hours in between are spent teaching, correcting, preparing handouts and, of course, solving a variety of apparently insoluble problems. But the nights are all mine! What’s left of them anyway.

I love night time, especially the few moments when I am asleep, because I dream a lot and, believe it or not, in my dreams I have a life. Last night, in one of those glimmers of dream-life, I had the most impossible dream. I was still thinking about it when I got up this morning, not so much because I liked it, but because it was unusual: being Greek and everything, I’ve rightly come to expect that I can at least have a decent dream in my native language. Alas! Last night was an altogether different night and I had a full-colour, English-speaking dream!

I was loath to tell anyone for fear they might think I’d gone completely daft. But at the school this morning, finding I couldn’t hold back much longer, I told my trusted colleague and friend, Aphrodite, the Italian teacher. She was very accommodating and tried to soothe me down, telling me that she had had dreams in Italian on a number of occasions. She didn’t mention the colour thing. However, there was no mistaking the whispering and snickering that have been going on among the faculty all day today.

What’s worse, my senior Proficiency class got wind of what had come to be a household joke in the school by 7.00 in the evening. I could tell by the knowing look on their faces and the impish smiles. Knowing myself that there’s no easy way round the snide remarks of intelligent undergraduates and realising that the worst was yet to come, I walked into the classroom at 7.10, nose up in the air and a prim smile, both of which were meant to demonstrate how superior a being a teacher can be.

For a change, my Proficiency class noticed my altered physiology (how come they never notice when I glare at them?) and there came the long-awaited flood of questions: 'What’s up, Miss? What are you so solemn about? More last-minute changes to the exams?' I knew it was all make-believe, of course, and they were just having me on but I could take it, for by now, I had devised a little plan: own up to it, offer a plausible, irrefutable explanation and nobody will think you’re weird any more. Aloud I said: 'All right, everyone! No need to put it on any more. Research has shown that it’s perfectly healthy for any L2 user who employs his linguistic aptitude for more than twelve hours a day to display reverse language interference.'

I knew they wouldn’t have a clue about the words I’d used, which was all on purpose, I assure you. High-sounding words can have this effect on people. They certainly had their effect on these people: they were flabbergasted! Not to mention that Greek students have repeatedly shown a marked dislike for phrasal verbs and terminology that is not derived from Greek. But they knew the word ‘research’ and that added gravity to the remark. 'What do you mean exactly, Miss?' 'I mean, my dear child, that it is not bizarre for me to dream in English, given the fact that I’ve been using English for the better part of the day for more than fifteen years.'

I can’t begin to describe the laughter and upheaval that followed. When they started coming to, the wise guy of the class had the nerve to come up with the question: 'You mean you even dream in English now?' And the inevitable piece of advice followed right after, verbalised by one of his cheekiest sidekicks: 'I’d get special help if I were you'. My only consolation was that his functional grammar worked perfectly for once.

I think this little incident serves to prove that we should beware of our language of habitual use, as it possesses the uncanny power of seeping through our whole existence, taking over almost completely, at the expense of our good old mother tongue.

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