Way back in the early ‘80s when I was a student at Manchester University, I had to spend a year in Germany as part of my Modern Languages degree course. For twelve hours a week, I’d teach English in a Gymnasium (German for Grammar School, not some random Gym!) in Krefeld, not far from Dusseldorf, and the rest of the time was my own.
Teaching English in Germany
The Head of English, for the school I worked in, had clearly asked his students if any of them were prepared to have an English-speaking lodger for a year and so had found me accommodation in a very modern executive-type house with its own granny-flat attached.
The landlady had a daughter not much younger than me who was a student at the same school and was over-the-moon that her daughter Silke would have the benefit of English conversation whenever she wanted. The flat they showed me to when I turned up that first day was far superior to anything I’d ever lived in before as a student or even growing up in the family home in Wales. The bathroom alone was twice the size of my childhood bedroom!
The landlady had a daughter… was over-the-moon that her daughter Silke would have the benefit of English conversation whenever she wanted.
I soon found that 12 hours a week paid peanuts and so wracked my brains to figure out other ways to earn money. McDonald’s paid well and gave me plenty of opportunities to speak and practice my German and I made lots of good friends there. But the jobs I remember most were the various tutor jobs I took on.
All the people I taught
I taught German for beginners and Intermediates at the local British Army Barracks in Krefeld. All-male groups, who wanted to be able to integrate better with the local community, were fun to teach and it was really satisfying to hear the results of my work at the end of every hour.
Many of the men had partners who lived in army accommodation and one week one of the students, a 35-year-old soldier, said his wife would love to learn some conversational German too. Armed with her phone number I went home and called her to find out when she wanted to start. It turned out that she had a group of friends who were also keen to be able to say more than Danke or Bitte and so it was decided that we’d have weekly informal coffee mornings in each of their houses, where they thought they’d feel less pressure than in a formal or one-to-one tutor environment.
All of these tutor jobs were enjoyable but my most memorable tutoring experience came where I least expected it. During one of my McDonalds’ shifts, I got talking to a young Hungarian woman who had a daughter. I’m Welsh, she was Hungarian and there we were having a conversation in German!
Anyway, it transpired that she was very keen for her daughter to learn English and French and needing the money, I offered to tutor her. The thing is, she neglected to mention that her daughter wasn’t quite three! I’d worked with adults and with children over 12 but tutoring the ‘early years’ is a completely different ballgame.
A student who I’ll never forget
Anna was a lovely, bright girl who soaked up everything like a sponge but at the end of the day, she was a very young child. She had a Hungarian mother, a Turkish father, one set of English grandparents who lived in France and she lived in Germany. So many languages, yet she danced from one to the other with so much ease and not a jot of self-consciousness.
So many languages, yet she danced from one to the other with so much ease and not a jot of self-consciousness.
I taught her nursery rhymes, we played counting games and we sang songs. Every ‘lesson’ was fun for both of us and her mum regularly joined in too. I visited Anna once a week for six months and her English, in particular, came on in leaps and bounds.
Thirty-five years have passed since I last saw Anna which would make her not far off forty now. I often wonder if she remembers those lessons and if she actually uses her language skills today. I certainly remember her and if anyone ever asks me about the benefits of one-to-one language lessons, it’s my experiences with Anna that I talk about.
Comment below with any thoughts and please share your story on your most memorable tutoring experience.