Friday, 20 November 2015

language lessons

Our bicycle journey across Europe and Asia has come, with our funds, to an end.  It's time to work and start saving up what Chris calls "travel points".  We left Luang Prabang and sailed back up the Mekong to the Thai border with our good friend Gertrude who hooked up with us in Luang Prabang.

We headed to Chiang Mai for me to do my CELTA course at the International House branch there.  This turned out to be an intensive four week course that tested my ability to deal with stress.  We were hosted by Katie, an American who lives and works with her Kiwi partner, Jared, in the city.  They too have been cycling and we discovered that they were in Kyrgyzstan at the same time as us.  Small world, I suppose.  Gayle got ill - I knew it was serious because she refused food - but it wasn't until we moved into a hotel for the duration that we discovered what was wrong.  The body rash indicated dengue fever.  By this time she was feeling better so I stopped worrying about her health and got back to worrying about mine.  I had textbooks to read and a computer to buy (and return because of a fault) before the course started.  Gayle joined me for the two-day 'Grammar Refresher' where we met some of the other students.  
Incredibly there were three women from our neck of the woods: Emily comes from just down the road from our house, Gillian's a Lancashire lass now living in Vietnam and Harriet's a Manc.  A very small world indeed.  Emily's partner Mark boosted the male quota, which was fairly small.  There was Vik from India and David from Italy and everyone else was female.  Most of us hoping to pass the course and get a job teaching English.  The exception was a lovely group of women from Pakistan who were being sponsored by the British Council and were already teachers.  

The teachers on the course were great - Percy and Monika kept us interested and entertained throughout and taught us using the methods and frameworks we were being taught to use ourselves.  But trying to cram everything into four weeks took its toll on my sanity.  Whilst Gayle took on the role of looking after me and ensuring I was fed and watered, I struggled with trying to teach and complete assignments that, although not too difficult, became so with the time constraints.  I taught for the first time on the second day and thankfully it wasn't a disaster.  But after each class you had to complete a form reflecting on what worked and what didn't.  I'm pretty good at self-criticism so quite enjoyed that bit.  However I discovered I was grinding my teeth in my sleep and in the first week lost half a tooth as a result.

It soon became clear that I'm not a natural.  I realised this after observing two classes by Emily, who just seemed to be in her element, despite her nerves.  We were divided into three teaching groups and taught two evening classes each week.  Our lessons were only 45 minutes long, so why did it take so long to prepare?  So much we learnt was common sense and I soon became conscious that as long as I didn't panic, freak out or mangle my assignments that, even if I didn't shine, I would pass.  So it was quite a shock to be sitting observing David in his second lesson when he froze and very calmly asked Monika to take over.  In trying to absorb all the information we were being overloaded with he seemed to have got lost in his own head over a grammar lesson he could easily cope with outside of the class.  We were all shocked and he clearly was upset and never recovered.  After a weekend of stewing over it he withdrew.  What amazed me was that David wasn't the only non-native speaker.  There was Christina, another Italian, Jasmine from Shanghai and Luiza, a Romanian.  Their English was good and their grammar better than others because they'd had to study it.  Yamna and Aafia were in our group and worried about their strong Pakistani accents, but as Monika pointed out to them, 80% of English conversations in the world take place between non-native speakers, so it's important that students get used to different accents.

I think just before I started the course we'd made Skype calls to Gayle's mum and my mum and dad and it was soon afterwards that we talked about going home after my course had finished.  Within minutes Gayle had found a cheap flight from Bangkok to Manchester via Oslo.  We booked it.  If our plan is to find work teaching English for a year or more then it was time we went home and saw them.  So that's what we did.

We took a train to Bangkok and our final ride was to the international airport out of the city, with cardboard bike boxes strapped on top of our rear panniers.  It took most of the day and it was a hot, sweaty ride but it seemed like the right thing to do.  We left England on July 4th 2012.  It was now November 2015.  We wondered what the weather would be like in England.............