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Thursday December 18, 2008

CHILD’S PLAY


During the summer a Mallorcan friend begged me to teach English to her daughter. I hesitated. After all I’m not a qualified teacher and lessons with a Mallorcan speaking seven year old sounded like a bit of a challenge. Finally I agreed. After all it would only be for the holiday period. ‘That’s great’, she enthused, ‘because I now have a group of six kids.’ It was too late to remonstrate, so I bit the bullet.

The day arrived for the first lesson. The children and parents trudged up our stony track, full of excitement. One mother told me that her son, Juan, had a terrible phobia of English and was bottom of the class in school. Great stuff. I looked down to see an anxious little face staring up at me. His friend Mateo, a cool and assured seven year old, grinned and with Juan, rushed off to our pond to coo over the frogs and fish. Within seconds, all four girls had joined them and I envisaged a tough task in trying to lure them into the house. The parents left and their offspring ran wildly around the garden, paying me little attention. It was make or break. With what authority I could muster, I clapped my hands and bellowed for them to come inside. They stopped and stared understanding my tone but not the English. I tried in Spanish. This time they reluctantly tripped after me and sat at the kitchen table. I had made up folders and worksheets for them all and had also pilfered puppets and plastic animals from my son’s room. There would be hell to pay if he ever found out.

For the first minute they listened, then began fidgeting and talking to one another in Mallorcan. I rapped the table and showed them my watch. We had one hour, I explained. If they worked hard we would enjoy chocolate biscuits and orangeade at half time and would then watch a video. If not, we would carry on working without a break. They groaned but begrudgingly agreed to play ball. Juan crawled under the table so I enticed him with a colouring book. He drew a dog. ‘Fantastic!’ I exclaimed in English and stuck a gold star on the page. He gave me a shy smile and drew a cat. ‘Cat,’ he said. I told him how brilliant his English was. He reddened with pride. So we coloured and did word games, had our juice and biscuits and spent time listening and dancing to nursery rhymes and songs and before I knew it, an hour had passed. The children greeted their parents with their completed work sheets that sported gold stars and encouraging messages.

By the end of the summer, I had to admit to enjoying my little class and taking extraordinary pride in the progress the children had made. I developed a modest library of books and work sheets and made up stories and word games. I got to know them all well and we had such fun. There were achingly funny moments. At Halloween when I asked them what a ‘bruja’ was in English, Catalina piped up with ‘Bitch!’ ‘Oh no,’ I corrected, swallowing a guffaw, ‘You mean WITCH!’

Soon, if one of them misbehaved they’d yell in unison, ‘Cheeky! Sit on your bottom!’ When they had worked hard, they would crow, ‘I am a star!’ Heaven knows what the Mallorcan teaching English at their school would think. When the final lesson came, we did musical chairs and pass the parcel. I kissed the parents and children goodbye and wished them a great school year ahead. They smiled awkwardly. ‘Actually,’ Juan’s mother said. ‘We want you to continue. The children love coming to English.’ I hadn’t anticipated this.

So now, every Friday, I see my talented little friends. Energy, patience and advance planning is needed but when Juan came top of his class in English, I clucked like a mother hen. Simple pleasures really are the best, and what, honestly, could top that?





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