Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mahin, Queen of ESL

I have to tell you about Mahin.  She is about 80 years old, from Iran, and has lived in England for the past eight years.  I know her because she is trying to learn English.  Actually, that's not quite true.  Steeped as I am in learning to teach English as a Second Language (ESL), I must clarify in the present perfect continuous:  Mahin has been trying to learn English for eight years now.  She is a student in the class that volunteers to learn (for free) from teachers in training.  

She moved here to be with her two granddaughters, ages 9 and 7.  Or, according to Mahin, she was tricked into moving here.  Her daughter told her she was needed as a nanny.  It turns out that's not true -- Mahin hardly ever looks after the children.  But she has stayed here ever since.  And from what I can gather, her days, for the past eight years, have consisted of floating from one English class to another.  She is a legend in the Oxford ESL community.  She has apparently been in the upper intermediate ESL class that I'm teaching for the past eight years (well, presumably, she started in lower intermediate but has moved up).  My supervisor, who has also taught at other Oxford colleges, says that she takes ESL courses there as well.  In fact, she will often take more than one course a day.

She knows all the material, and often makes wisecracks based on her knowledge of what's to come.  Her spoken English is still pretty spotty (you try changing an accent after 72 years) but she knows all the stories we use, and seems to find newfound glee in them every time we introduce them.  

She also has no quabbles about making fun of instructors.  This past week, one of my cohorts was demonstrating how to do the laundry, practicing sequence words (first, next, finally) with the students.  She pretended she had on dirty clothes and began to take off her outer layers of clothing.  Right before she got to her pants, Mahin (her modest Islamic sensibilities clearly flummoxed by the occasion) kept saying "Finally, finally, finally" to try and get her to stop.  Yesterday, during my lesson, she got a laugh when she claimed that she had drinking parties (obviously against her religion).  

One last testament to her legendary status in the world of ESL:  another of my colleagues was talking to his father, who had also taken an ESL certification course last year.  He took it at a different college in a different part of town.  When they began discussing students, his father immediately said, "Oh, have you got Mahin?"  Just the way he phrased it, as if she were a condition, or a state of being, cracks me up.  Because that's exactly what she is.  

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