Friday, June 22, 2007

Wanted: a (good) Greek teacher

I believe that majority of those who have learned a foreign language have done so in highly individual ways, by developing special tricks and techniques that work for them. My idiosyncratic mix is made of the following elements: strong motivation; visits to the country; reading the literature; romantic or at least personal interest; and a good teacher.

I promise to write about the first four elements at some point, but it was good teachers, or rather, scarcity thereof, that I was thinking about the whole of the previous week. The thinking has been triggered by a Greek party I attended last weekend. As the Greek parties go, the food was plentiful, the music traditional, and the guys hot. Linguistically, however, the party was disappointing, despite the presence of a woman who actually was a professional teacher of Greek, sent by the Greek government to teach the language of Kavafis and Elytis to the expats' children in London. The government might have its own selection criteria, but in my opinion, the very first quality language teachers need is the ability to speak beautifully themselves. The woman at the party did not: her language was hesitant, bland, primitive, as indeed the language of many people at the party.

In many cases, the best teachers I had were not professionals, but friends and acquaintances of mine. Probably, the best of them all was an Italian friend with whom I spent several months in Hamburg and who single-handedly transformed me from a so-so Italian speaker into an advanced one. (She also taught me to cook, by the way.) By the time I met her, I had lived in Rome, had read La Divina Commedia, and was chattering away with any Italian in my vicinity. She did not criticise -- it is only much later that she admitted that at the time I spoke with Italian words and English structure -- but she would listen to me, she would correct me only sometimes (she is very polite), but more important, she would speak herself. We did not have any formal lessons, now and then she would answer my question about grammar, but after a while, I realised I was improving dramatically. We learn a lot by imitation.

With the Greek teaching, on the other hand, I did not have much luck. Apart from a former Greek colleague who would teach me in one hour more useful phrases than my formal teachers would teach in a year, but who unfortunately lives far away, I am still looking. . .

No comments: