The Journey to Language Teaching

For your school’s Homework Club Tutor no two days are the same. These young people give me hope for the future and provide a positive antidote to the depressing 24-hour news channels.

It was a stroke of good fortune that brought me to teaching English. Summer 2005, my young wife came home and told me her job was moving from Maidenhead, England, to Neuchâtel, Switzerland. As excited as I was at the thought of the move, it seemed unlikely that, after spending seven years as a police officer and fraud squad detective and 30 years managing hotels, offices, doctors surgeries and hospitals, I would be able to find a similar job in Nespressoland. So, I decided to follow in my son’s footsteps and become a teacher. I went to college, part-time, and obtained the Cambridge Certificate for English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA).

Early 2006, at the age of 63, I started my new career. Within a couple of months of arriving in the Switz, I was tutoring business and legal English to two international firms of accountants in Geneva, Lausanne and Bern. I was fortunate not to have to follow a curriculum. The best start to any tutorial was, “John, I have a question.” Keeping in mind the quote from Daniel Kehlman’s book ‘Measuring the World’ (Gauss shrugged. “Linguistics,” he said, “was for people who had the precision for mathematics but not the intelligence: people who would invent their own makeshift logic.”), I was able to give them what they needed to do their jobs.

Then, remembering Blaise Pascal’s famous apology to a friend, (I’m sorry to have written such a long letter. I didn’t have the time to write a short one.), we worked on their reports and prepared their presentations. My Fraud Squad experience was particularly useful in dealing with the language of tax avoidance and standard Swiss banking practice.

Learning another language, though, is only useful if you are going to use it and the funny thing was, these people needed English not only for their international clients but also, to speak to each other. The Switz has four official languages and there’s a myth about Swiss people being multi-lingual – they’re not. I once took my neighbours’ French speaking teenage daughters 50 kilometres over the Röstigraben into the Swiss-German speaking part and  had to translate for them; they couldn’t read the menu. It felt bizarre; an Englishman translating German into French for these two young women.

So was it with the accountants and lawyers. The French speakers in the Geneva and Lausanne offices wouldn’t learn Swiss-German; a language that’s not even written. And the Swiss German speakers in Bern thought French somewhat beneath them, decadent, even. So they spoke to each other in English.

And now in LIS, I once again tutor business English and, in the Homework Club, encourage the selection of the best vocabulary for that important essay. Funny old world, innit?

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.