Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Not the Cure for Cancer

People often ask how work is going.

Work is going well. I'm enjoying it. It involves a lot of just sitting and talking. Of course there's the travel to and from work. If I don't walk seven minutes down the street to the office, I take the Metro (a sort of subway that doesn't go underground) tweny minutes to Amstelveen.

Amstelveen is a city that would have liked to be in Amsterdam, but there wasn't enough room, so it sits to the South sort of like it's waiting for part of Amsterdam to leave so it can take its place. It's a lot of office buildings and, to quote Gertrude Stein, "There is no there there." It's mostly just a place people (like me) go to work, although people do live there.

My work involves a lot of this:

Student: One thing what is more important...

Me: One thing that is more important.

Student: Huh? Oh yeah. One thing that is more important...

Or this:

Student: ...if they are having problems to pay for it.

Me: ...if they are having problems paying for it.

Student: Why is that?

Me: I'm...uh...I'm going to have to look that up and get back to you next week.

And I usually do. It's not easy finding certain answers. Like when can you leave "that" out of a sentence? For instance, She knew that she was going to be late. She knew she was going to be late. You can't just go by the sound of it if you're not a native speaker. There's a rule.

Believe me, there are rules. Many rules. And they don't all agree. And some are British rules and some are American. And my students tend to like to know the rules.

There are things that I have already explained over and over. Present simple (I eat bread.) vs. Present continuous (I am eating bread.) I think I might be able to write a book on Dutch-specific problems with English when I have been doing this job for a while. They also sometimes have problems with the possessive. Like they'll say, "the dog of my mother" instead of "my mother's dog." It's because of how it's said in Dutch.

Of course it's not every native Dutch speaker. They are generally good at languages. They have good instincts from all they languages they have to do in high school and all the languages they're exposed to growing up. I always picture myself finding the squeak or the leak and fixing it as opposed to tearing apart or rebuilding the entire engine of a car. (This from a guy who avoided popping the hood on his car whenever possible?)

So it's good. It almost doesn't feel like work a lot of the time. They are generally nice people and because I am the way I am, we laugh a lot. Sometimes all we do is talk and I listen for content (because of the way I'm built) and for how they're saying it (which is the real work.)

There's something about it that's really satisfying. When I was in Paris five years ago, I was having lunch with a friend of a friend who works in the fashion industry. She talked about her work interviewing girls who want to be models and then shrugged and said, "It's not finding the cure for cancer, but I like it and I'm good at it."

That's sort of how I feel about this job, although it is far and away more easy to fit my job into the category of "Making the world a better place" than modeling. It's teaching for goodness sake! Still, I almost enjoy it too much to call it work.

We should all have that problem, huh?


Elemmaciltur said...

I can totally relate to you on that, having taught English to Germans for about 10 months. I really liked the job and would have loved to carry on with it...but well, things don't always go as you like.

As for the teaching itself, I think it's a bit easier for me to teach because I wasn't born with the language ingrained in me and so I can explain some of the rules. Of course, there are also a lot of "I'll have to look it up and get back to you about it next week." ;-)

Mama Mojo said...

It sounds like a fun job. Tutoring writing in college is still one of my all time best jobs, even though I only earned 8/hr.

Here's the website of where I tutored:

They have different handouts. You might find it useful when looking up explanations.

I can imagine that you're really good, and that the students love you!