Or should that be, I have learners?
I met the instructor outside the learner’s house, as arranged, and we went in together. We met D, the learner, a Romanian woman of about my age, and then she introduced us to her husband, G and her cousin (or possibly he was her husband’s cousin? I wasn’t quite clear on that), whose name I forgot to write down and now realise I’ve forgotten. D’s English seemed quite good, so I was a bit surprised when the two men sat down with us at the table, but assumed that she just wasn’t confident about talking to us on her own so had asked them to sit with us.
The instructor was trying to have a conversation with D, to establish her English ability, but the cousin, whose English was much better than D’s, kept answering for her and was dominating the conversation (though I don’t think he was doing it on purpose – I think he was genuinely trying to be helpful). If it had been a proper lesson I would have asked him nicely to leave (we’d discussed exactly this sort of situation in class), but as it was just an introductory meeting the instructor didn’t say anything, but tried to encourage D to answer questions herself, and when the cousin occasionally paused for breath she did eventually say enough that I was able to get a reasonable idea of her English ability, which was surprisingly good considering she’d only been in NZ for 7 months (and had only had three months of English lessons before leaving Romania). She said she had previously learnt Italian and French, so obviously the experience of learning those languages gave her a good grounding when it came to learning another one.
After a while I noticed that whenever the instructor asked D a question about what she found difficult in English, the cousin would start talking about his own difficulties. So I was already starting to have suspicions about what was going on when he confirmed them by asking if he could have lessons too. And then it turned out all three of them wanted lessons! We had been warned that you often end up with another family member sitting in on the lessons, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise, but three learners at once seemed a bit excessive to me. The instructor obviously thought so to, because she said that wouldn’t work, but that she was happy to put the two men down on the waiting list for their own tutors, and maybe if I agreed then G could sit in on his wife’s lessons in the meantime. She explained to the cousin that his English was so much better than D’s that it would be too difficult for me to tutor him at the same time (G’s English was at a similar level to D’s), and he agreed to wait until he could get a tutor of his own – which was a huge relief to me, because I could just imagine what the lessons would be like with him sitting in: he’d have done all the talking, and D wouldn’t have learnt a thing! We agreed that I’d have a go at teaching D and G together, but if it wasn’t working then I’d ask G to leave and just teach D.
The next complication was trying to set a day and time for the lessons. All three of them are working incredibly long hours (as is all too common with non-English speaking immigrants, they are being terribly exploited by employers who know they’re desperate for work so won’t complain), and D doesn’t have a set rota, so is working shifts at all hours. She’s working nights this week, so we couldn’t find a time when we were both free, so in the end we decided that she’d wait until she gets her rota for the next week and then she’ll ring me to arrange a time. She thought she should be able to arrange to keep one evening a week free, but it’s all very up in the air at the moment.
So I don’t know exactly when I’ll be tutoring, and I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll have one or two (or even three!) learners, but who cares – I’m really looking forward to this! They seem like lovely people, and I think we’re going to enjoy working together.
And now I’ve got a week to start putting together some lesson plans! The instructor has promised to send me some resources (because I can’t get into the office easily during the day), but I need to come up with some strategies to shut the cousin up if he decides to join us! 🙂
(Please keep comments to this and any future entries about my learners private. Although I’ve tried to keep my learners’ identities anonymous, it’s inevitable that I will sometimes let identifying information slip, and I want to respect their privacy, so I’ll be keeping all entries about them friends-only.)