Tales from an ESL Classroom – Part 1

It was the funniest of times; it was the saddest of times.

I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The school I was working at was a language school, where most of the students were adult refugees.

My first class was a group of fifteen men and women from Poland. They were a great group who were eager to learn all they could about Canada.

The course lasted 20 weeks and in that time we were usually able to bring the students from having no knowledge of English to knowing enough of the language to get an entry-level job. We started with the alphabet and progressed to single words and sentences. Near the end of the course we started writing simple sentences. Grammar was a bit of a problem, though, and some students were never able to quite get the hang of it. And idioms, like “get the hang of it” were a real problem for most.

During one morning’s lesson, I asked a man, “How are you today?”  He answered, “Today is Wednesday.”

Sometimes I would write words or phrases on the chalkboard and the students were supposed to write a simple sentence, using the correct verb tense.

  • “every day” – The sentence I got from one man, “Every day I put two sandwiches in my briefs.” prompted a quick lesson on the difference between “briefs” and “briefcase”.
  • “bigger than” – This man must have been using a dictionary, probably a British one, when he wrote, “My cock is bigger than your chicken.” This time the teacher was blushing more than the students!

Occasionally, a student would miss a class and I got some pretty interesting “sick” notes.

One started, “My darling Maureen…” and ended “I love you, darling.”

We worked hard five hours a day, five days a week, and by Friday afternoon we were exhausted.  Sometimes we played BINGO, which helped them with their numbers but also gave the “caller” a chance to practice speaking.

One day my teen-aged daughter and her friend came for a quick visit and two men stood up and said, “We are single.”

The students, men and women, made wonderful progress and one of the women even named her new daughter after my daughter, Monica.

I heard over the years that they all got jobs, had families, and became Canadian citizens. I grew to admire and respect these people so much and they will always be in my heart.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.