As I looked at the pastiche of unbelievably bored faces I realised, I too was bored.
The tedium of explaining the grammatical difference between “need” and “needn’t” was as pointless as it was useless, being as it is that you can go all the way from Torquay to Inverness via Melbourne, Cape Town and Los Angeles, without once hearing anyone apart from some pedantic English staff using the word “needn’t”. You just won’t. In the face of saying “you don’t need…” needn’t has no merit. In short you needn’t use the the word. In even shorter, it can fuck off.
The relevance of language is lost in the world of TEFL, stumbling as we do through archaic grammar and pointless structures that most English speakers don’t know let alone use. It is a language that is not in anyway applicable to the reality of daily life and, consequently, defeats the purpose of a language. Not to get too deep into a subject which is, at best, boring and at worst the most pedantic money-making business on earth, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a learner.
The world of language learning is the same from all parts, TEFL just has the catchiest acronym. My recent forays into the higher echelons of learning Spanish had produced similar results, useless grammar and such sumptuous subjects as recycling, public transport and the history of bamboo. It was hardly the dream into the sun-drenched lands of Hispanic linguistic mastery. Five minutes of learning how to describe the different colour of the bins outside and I was done.
It is a real travesty, this desire to make a language which could be a potentially useful communicative tool, into a never-ending cycle of boredom and shit. Not even useful shit at that, just a stagnant, fetid waste of time. When faced with onset of a real-life situation, the schooled learner struggles in the face of all that constitutes a normal life.
This was aptly proven yesterday with the arrival of my pal and former partaker in the Iberian dream, Jock. Jock was staying at my shared flat for a night as he passed through the city of Barcelona. With this in mind I went dutifully about the linguistic task of informing my flatmates of his arrival. The groundwork was simple enough, a bit of “future simple” to announce his arrival and a touch of “conditional” to deal with the incertitude of the hour he would grace our halls. In the event, Jock stepped of his medium-hall flight having consumed what is known in the business as a “heroic” volume of spirits. It is faced with this that the linguistic barrier between correct and incorrect philology starts to blur.
The British reputation abroad is fully understood in Spain, a land which bears the brunt of our indelible desire to get extremely pissed. The verb for getting absolutely steaming in Spanish is ‘emboracharse” a lovely reflexive number which quite wonderfully adds the element of self-destruction that accompanies the ingestion of a huge volume of alcohol. After the obligatory miscommunication between us Jock arrived, pissed, at around two in the morning.
The arrangements that surrounded the sleeping arrangements were bound to be complex. Due to an ongoing attempt at fooling the Spanish immigration authorities, my Salvadorian flatmate was currently using most of the available floor space to put up her extended family. Such cases of visa fraud leave for little room at the inn, and what little room there was didn’t have the capacity to put up a drunk Scot such as we all are deep down. Jock suggested the hallway. The idea of my fairly prim flatmate, a secretary by day, stepping over the comatose mountain of man who was proposing to sleep in the tiny corridor that separates the bedroom from the shitter was too funny for words. As small as my living quarters were, we would have to slum it somehow as there wasn’t anywhere else. Or was there?
One of the many facets of my strange apartment is the presence of two adjacent bathrooms, one of which is in possession of two sinks. For why, I haven’t a fucking clue. Bathroom number one, a wonderful windowed, inviting looking thing stands opposite the piss-stained cell, which, as they put it, “is reserved for my use”. Lacking any sort of ventilation and natural light, the place has all the interior charm of a septic tank. It was in such charming environs that Jock chose to spend the wee small hours.
You don’t shit where you eat, or so the saying goes.
The wizened fool who created such blatant idioms clearly hadn’t factored in the desire of a drunken Caledonian to seek respite against a whisky-addled brain. I thought at the time it was a strange choice, as sleeping in a toilet isn’t in the higher echelons of humankind’s achievements, still it seemed better than the hallway purely due to the fact that I wouldn’t have to explain it to my flatmates the next day. In fact, they probably wouldn’t even notice he was there.
The farting was the first giveaway. Flatulence of such magnitude echoed liberally over the marble and parquet that constitutes most Spanish abodes. I could hear it despite being three rooms away, in the other two rooms slept my flat’s compliment. The real issue came in the morning as to my horror I discovered that Jock had slept with the door open. It was an action that was entirely understandable due to the absence of a window coupled with the build-up of noxious gases emitting from Jock’s arse. As I tiptoed into the hallway hoping to catch Jock before my flatmates, I was greeted by a viewing gallery that looked upon my friend, ever the picture of a desolate vagrant, adorning their bathroom floor. He snored and farted again, but did not stir. As one they turned to me, eyes posing a million silent questions all of which started with the word “why”.
The phrase “cat got your tongue” exist unilaterally over the two languages but when you are in the moment, you freeze up, you can’t speak. That, and no wanker on earth ever uses that expression. Cats and tongues aside, I couldn’t rightly explain this atypical happening. My brain knew what colour bin the plastic bottles went in but explaining the actions of a drunk Scot were beyond my linguistic capabilities, ironic considering the regularity of the latter over the paltry volume of time I spend separating glass and cardboard with the ultimate intention of saving the world. I had nothing to say, Jock woke up, oblivious, and everyone went back on with the grim task of going to work surrounded by such a picture of destitution.
Looking back on the class I packed it in and told the truth. Fuck it, a group of 14 year-olds aren’t concerned with the grammatical impossibility of using “needn’t” with a noun. They had other things on their mind, namely the international desire of teenagers that is to exchange body fluids with the opposite sex and get hold of booze and cigarettes. A lesson on the finer points of getting an adult to buy you alcohol, or a list of Barcelona’s best places to meet up-for-it Australian girls would have had a degree of relevance and thus possible linguistic progression for these strained minds.
My irrelevant job serves as a depressing reminder of the lack of progress in the world of language teaching. With this in mind I intend to start this series focussing on the correct and accurate use of English grammar when applied to the real situations that I find myself in on a daily basis. I hope you enjoy, and more importantly, I hope you learn.