Language learning memoirs

It’s Saturday afternoon and I don’t really want to go into anything too theoretical today. I happen to be in a pretty nostalgic mood, so I thought I’d take quick trip down my language learning memory lane and share with you a few random moments that, for some mysterious reason, I can still recall.

I have very few recollections of the hundreds of English classes I had in the 80s and 90s. Seriously. But, for some strange reason, a few random moments still remain.

Memoir 1. A lesson in which I managed to use a third conditional sentence spontaneously. I can still remember the teacher’s nod of approval and the thumbs up she gave me, genuinely thrilled that I’d gotten it right.

learningmemoirsMemoir 2. A coursebook dialog involving Abba and death:

“You’ve got a lot of Abba records, Richard.”
“Yes, my wife used to be very keen on them at one time.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

This is the exact dialog. I can still recall every single line, Richard’s sadness and a truly surprising reference to Abba in the mid 80s, which made me feel less of an alien for being a fan way back then.

3. An end-of-term note in which the teacher (who later on became my boss and sort of mentor throughout the 90s) congratulated me on my work and told me to keep it up. That was when I learned “keep up”.

4. A coursebook dialog involving wife, husband and well-meaning friend:

“Look, (name), I know it’s none of my business, but…”
“Well, then keep out of it.”

This is the exact dialog. I don’t remember the rest, of course, but these lines have clung to me all these years. The two chunks were not the focal point of the lesson, I’m sure, but that’s what I wound up learning by listening to a dialog in which an angry woman snapped at a friend. Just the sort of raw, unprocessed emotion you don’t find in textbooks nowadays. Angry characters don’t sell books, I guess.

5.  A horrid coursebook text called The Candy Route, which the teacher apologetically forced us to plod through, since she “had a syllabus to cover.” In hindsight, this is clearly more information than we needed to have back then.

6. A lesson on synonyms in which the teacher decided to check how much we knew before teaching anything. Wise of her. Anyway, upon hearing “quick”, I gladly gave her “swift”, proud of my vast lexicon for a 15-year-old. My unexpected contribution had the whole group glaring at me. From then on, I became the least popular student in the group.

Longman_Advanced_English7. A coursebook listening passage containing an interview with a politician, who, as it turned out, was actually an evil robot who went haywire and exploded at the end of the interview. One of the aims of that particular listening was to contrast formal and informal language and expose us to oddities like “based on which, through whom, out of which, regardless of whom” etc. God, did I learn that stuff. To be honest, I have no recollection whatsoever of the teacher’s explanation, but the sheer absurdity of the situation made all the difference.

Now, fill in the blanks:

The most memorable stuff was made up of _____.

Tip: Heart or brain?

Thanks for reading.

16 thoughts on “Language learning memoirs”

  1. And I remember this young student who did not believe in the PT party being given a mock CPE interview by two very radical petistas. Afterwards the examiners said, it was so hard giving top grades for someone who liked PFL, but the kid was soooooooooo perfect. And they enchanted by his performance….kisssss

  2. Luiz Otávio Barros says:

    Did I really like pfl back then?

  3. I'll never forget Quentin Crisp in Headway Advanced… I still remember the teacher's voice when giving instructions on a song by Sting, which he used to illustrate the lesson ('I'm an alien, I'm an English alien, I'm an Englishman in NY…') I guess that's what I heard… I've always felt like a bit of an alien, and it felt great to know that other people were just like me…

  4. Chris Khatchadourian says:

    How very interesting! I guess you're much more emotional than I am. I remember things like the oral drills in the Target series (does that give away my age?):"Chris, ask me if Colin is at home." And also doing endless Drummond pages for homework, which I actually enjoyed, because they were so easy, I could do them and watch TV at the same time. By the way, I think all teachers liked using "keep up the good work" on our reports. And when I became a teacher, I did, too! Bjs

  5. Luiz Otávio Barros says:

    Well, you've just said you ENJOYED the dreaded Drummod exercises, right? The fact that they were easy surely must've meant something (affectively) way back then? And I truly believe that if you can still recall the "ask me" thing, there's got to be a reason. I don't think it would have stuck like that otherwise.

  6. The first thing that came to mind was a repetition drill by my favourite teacher ever… I won't bore you with the details, but I remember getting it wrong, and the sheer embarrassment… Oh yeah, I never got it wrong again. You've made your point 😉

  7. Lu !!! Congrats on the blog, I really liked it. Very fun to read, had great laughs and remembered my own experiences !!!

  8. I remember loads of stuff you and Mike taught me. The one I associate with something that happened in class is "dismiss out of hand". I can remember Marcelo's telling us the story of how his thesis advisor had dismissed him out of hand as if it was today.

  9. Luiz Otávio Barros says:

    Eli, what point?
    Kat, I remember that listening, too!
    Pati, thanks for the sweet words.
    Ricardo, I remember that lesson, too!

  10. I remember the first time I was in London for an advanced English course. The teacher asked this vocabulary question: "what do you call a girl who behaves more like a boy, who likes dressing more like a boy and who enjoys playing 'boy games'?"

    Hey, I think I know the answer, I thought to myself… Yes, I actually KNOW the answer to this one!

    I raise my hand high up (almost like Donkey in Shrek saying "Pick me, pick me!") and the teacher turns to me…

    a LESBIAN, I say!!!!

    True story of my most embarrassing student moment!!! LOLOLOLOL

    [of course the word he was looking for was a TOM-BOY. Of course I never forgot that one again… lol]

  11. Luiz Otávio Barros says:

    I actually like lesbian a lot better than Tom Boy.

  12. Jeff Stranks says:

    Hi Luiz and congratulations on a stimulating website.
    Item 6 reminded me of two moments:
    1. As a schoolboy learning French, I did an exchange trip in the summer and came back with loads of good, up-to-date French. Made the big mistake of using a bit in the first French lesson – sarcastic teacher + colleagues' glares made sure I kept it all to myself from there on (and I think lots of teenagers do this).
    2. Back in 1990, before coming to Brazil, I took some evening classes in Portuguese. Lesson 2 was nationalities. I knew I was coming to Brazil so had been learning at home. When I said 'alemao', the teacher smiled, but in the break asked me 'not to bring words into the classroom that she hadn't taught'. End of my evening classes!!

  13. Jeff,

    Your anecdotes remind me of a story I once heard during one of my COTE sessions(not sure if true not). Perhaps it was even Luiz Otávio who told me this tale of a sad student and an even sadder excuse of a teacher. It goes something like this:

    "There once was a teacher of English who assigned a writing task to his students.

    Joãozinho wrote his piece and was feeling really confident he'd done a good job, even though he was rather saddened by the true event he'd described in his piece. The following class, when the assignment was due, he handed it to the teacher who, to his chagrin, asked him to come to the front of the class and read it out loud. Shy little Joãozinho complied.
    First sentence: 'Last week I was very sad because my grandmother die.'

    The teacher jumped at the opportunity to drill Joãozinho – and the rest of the group – on correct verb conjugation.

    'Ah!', he said 'No, no, no, no, no, Joãozinho. My grandmother died… DIED… repeat after me…"

  14. Luiz Otávio Barros says:

    Jeff, the alemão tale is really really sad. Funny how teachers can sometimes hinder -no, make that destroy – learning. Glad you're on board! Thanks for stopping by.
    Fabi, I think this was Marcos Soares' story, but it's such a classic, isn't it.

  15. Jeff Stranks says:

    Hi again
    First of all, apologies for posting 'alemao' without the tilde but my keyboard is English so no accents.
    I heard a similar story – in a book by Nunan, I think – about a student who told the teacher something like: 'Yesterday my dog died', to which the teacher, delighted by the accuracy, replied smilingly: 'Good!!'

  16. Luiz Otávio Barros says:

    Well, Jeff, at least it was the dog this time, right.

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