Teaching (English) is exhausting

One thing that you have to get used to living in a country where English is not the first language is errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Menus, road signs, and bizarre instructions in bathroom stalls are all good examples of seeing funny typos. I used to be a stickler for correcting these mistakes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they really used to get on my nerves. I remember a family trip to India almost 10 years ago now, where every single restaurant we went to had “noddles” on the menu, not noodles. Oh, how it bothered me! Now, as an English Teacher, I see these errors more often than ever before, so you would imagine that I’m always frustrated and tearing my hair out. But curiously, they don’t bother me so much anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still passionate about capital letters, verb conjugation, and the proper use of the Oxford Comma (yes, I’m one of those irritating, particular, and downright controversial user of the Oxford Comma! Points if you can tell me how many there are in this post alone… the answer is at the bottom of this post). However, along with this inherent desire to correct improper grammar points, I have for the first time, a real appreciation for anyone attempting to learn a second language and a wondrous admiration for those who have mastered it. Especially English, which is potentially the most difficult language to learn. I recall my French and Spanish lessons at school, and whilst I wasn’t a terrible linguist, I stopped learning Spanish at 16 and have lost most of it. I continued French for longer and even took a couple of modules at university, but I can claim to have conversational French speaking skills at best.

Whilst my last tweet was in 2013, my tagline, bio, or whatever they call it these days still reads: “…blah blah blah. Spelling and punctuation matter to me.” So why this sudden change of heart? Why does it not irk me the same way it used to? Well, mostly because English is incomprehensibly difficult to learn unless you are a native speaker. It’s not impossible, but now that I’m teaching this language, I’ve become distinctly aware of how many rules there are or rather, how many exceptions there are. Learners of the French tongue may recall from their schooldays a mnemonic device MR VANS TRAMPED, which stands for all the verbs that take the verb “être” to be, rather than “avoir”. I remember giving my French teacher serious grief because of these rule exceptions that I “just had to remember”. I used to think this was a cop out, but now I understand that some things in language just need to be accepted and not questioned, because I’m using the same line on my students, young and old alike. I’m even questioning verbs that I’ve grown up with because they just do not sound right in their different tenses anymore, and words that are spelled exactly the same way, but do not sound the same or mean something completely different. I’ll give you some examples: one house turns into two houses, but one mouse gives you two mice. How do you explain this rule to anyone? It follows no logic at all. One blouse will turn into two blouses, just like in the original example, but one grouse is pluralised as grows. Which is the exact same word as the present simple for the verb to grow. If it’s giving you and me a headache, what on earth would it do to an eight-year-old Khmer child?

Have you ever seen a sentence with the word “that” or “had” in it more than once? I’m not going to break it down for you here, because most of my readers want to hear of Thierry’s latest exploits and I’ve already been suitably distracted, but if you are interested check this out. It made me smile whilst sitting in an open air café half an hour before my next class. Then for the real grammar Nazis amongst you, try this one. Don’t you just love the internet?

In any case, this post is not my usual style (for a start, it’s not being published on a Friday, there are so many sets of parentheses that even I am finding  it hard to keep up with myself, and there are no shiny new minion pictures!). I sometimes feel like there is so much stuff rattling around my head that I need to get it out somehow, so this here is my medium. I figured I could update you all on my teaching life at the same time. Two birds, one stone kind of thing… I’m back to working two jobs and whilst I had stopped tutoring for a couple of months, I’m back to it on a kind of freelance basis with two really lovely Italian guys. They are pilots and looking to improve their conversational English. It has taken a few months to get myself established but I’m now in high demand! Which unfortunately for both me and my new potential customers is not ideal because I will be leaving Siem Reap in the near future. Admittedly, I haven’t booked the flight yet and I do keep putting my departure off  for one reason or another. More than a couple of friends have joked that I’ll stay here forever, and even though I think it would be easy enough to do, I think Siem Reap and I will need a little time apart soon!





By the way, there are five Oxford Commas in this post. If you don’t know what on Earth I’m talking about, as well as a really great song by Vampire Weekend, click here to get Google’s definition and join the debate.

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