In her second diary entry, Maria Alamanou discusses the problems of teaching phrasal verbs

Language problems today! It was one of those days in class, when nobody feels like doing much and everybody seems to have at least one thing in mind they would rather do than sit at a desk and toil away over the differences between first and second conditionals. But grammar wasn’t really much of a hassle. At least, it wasn’t worse than usual. The real trouble showed up as soon as vocabulary work came into sight.

Well, first things first. Early this morning I had to teach my favourite pre-FCE class. Not that I discriminate against any of my students – God forbid! These kids are my favourite for the sole reason that they work very well together and are all gifted learners. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that phrasal verbs were in order on such a fine sunny day!

There I was then, explaining a few things about separable and inseparable phrasal verbs, a few tips on how to be able to tell between them and signing off my early-morning lecture with the position of objects for the separable variety. As I was quickly informed by the vacant expressions on their beloved faces, most of them had fallen asleep or were halfway there. I quickly recapped and moved into the actual presentation and practice.

I handed out a nice little text which they were to go through and underline all the phrasal verbs. The kids looked at me with suspicion. ‘Do we underline all the verbs, Miss?’ came the first disorientated question. Realising that I had lost the inquirer in question somewhere along the way, I patiently repeated that they only had to underline those of the verbs that were phrasal. ‘And what does “phrasal” mean exactly?’ came the second outraging question. ‘Oh, no! Not you, too, Georgia!’ I thought to myself.

Cheerfully, instead of shouting them awake, I thought I’d try a different approach: ‘Come, now! Surely, you know what ‘phrasal’ means because it comes from the Greek word ‘phrasis’ '. Naturally, they recognised the Greek ring of the word when I pronounced it in Greek; some of them admitted to even having used it once or twice! However, the empty look lingered on their faces long after the enlightening revelation had passed.

I tried again: ‘In English the word is used with its more extended meaning. It’s more along the line of 'περ?φραση' (the word sounds ‘periphrasis’) ‘, I said triumphantly, thinking I was helping them. More staring. Stunned this time! ‘Are you speaking English or Greek now, Miss? I’m confused!’ said John, the most gifted of the group. Stalemate!

The good thing about me is that I never let myself get carried away with emotion and show them exactly how I feel about their academic prowess. This very fact, coupled with the realisation that this wasn’t getting anywhere, got me to turn cynic: ‘OK, no need to go over that again. So my Greek is too difficult for you but then again so is my English! In what language are we supposed to be talking? Any ideas?’ I asked bravely.

‘Sure. You can learn to speak Greek slang, like us!’ said Catherine, and set everybody laughing into the process. But this was far from being funny. It suddenly dawned on me that it was practically impossible to teach a foreign language to kids who didn’t even speak their mother tongue. Alarmed, I forgot all about my lesson plan, wiped the board clean of phrasal verbs and started checking their vocabulary notebooks. We went through every single word they had recorded over the past week while checking that they knew what their Greek equivalents meant too.

At around midday, still obviously troubled with the sad realisation I had made earlier in the day, I had the doubtful honour of having a mum call me: ‘My George is really delighted with your lessons. More than anything, he says he appreciates the Greek he learns with you. Keep up the good work!’ After that, I think I’ll take the sign down and put up a new one with ‘The Greek Courses Language School’ reading on it. Or maybe I’ll start charging double for the courses, whichever comes first!