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Just Tell Me What You Want

I picked up a new student this afternoon ... he was surprisingly light ... and ended up having a little come to Jesus with him.

Seems he'd made some complaints that his teachers weren't giving him the attention he needed. He hadn't learned enough in the past ten weeks. He spoke very little English when he arrived, and he's at a pre-intermediate level now so he's making decent progress, but his vocab and pronunciation are still very weak. And, of course, he hangs out with friends who share the same mother tongue. Guess what they speak to each other? Not English.

Last week, a bell rung (or he looked at the calendar) and he realized his return to China was just around the bend. He's going to have to tell his boss (who's also his father and speaks no English) that he's not quite ready to be the factory sales manager and/or represent their manufacturing company in upcoming trade shows in Milan, Frankfurt and Vegas. I think they expected him to be quasi-fluent in eleven weeks, which could happen, but not on three hours of group work a day.

So he asked for private instruction. Late in the game, but at least he asked. And since the Kazakhs left early, I was free.

"Who is your teacher in the morning?" I asked. I figured I could chat him/her up and get a clue on how he's doing in his group.

"I'm sorry, I don't know."

Okay, I can find out. We'll move on.

He wanted to do writing today and tackle pronunciation and business conversation tomorrow. That's two 2-hour sessions to find the magic bullet. No problem.

We ended up trying to edit a couple pages of marketing brochure copy, loaded with superlatives and meaningless marketing jargon. The text I'd gotten he gave me [thanks BW for pointing out my hack writing ;)] was clearly a literal translation from his handheld Chinese-English electronic dictionary. He wanted it to be web-savvy prose.

Over the past six years, proud we have accumulated the essence of valves kind and satisfactory clients in markets wide the world, married to principles of solidarity, highly efficiency, quality assuring, and diligence.

I helped him out as best I could (believe it or not, my knowledge of hot-forged ball valves is somewhat limited).

"I don't like the number second .... what do you call that?" he asked, pointing to a paragraph after he'd typed a couple of our English words into his calculationary (that's a new word I just made up, nice eh?).

"What don't you like about it?"

He stared at me. You could see his mind whirring.

"What do you want it to say?"

Bless. He couldn't tell me, and I could sense his frustration, but still ... I had to let him know, in no uncertain terms, that private tuition fees do not include a freelance copywriter.

"This is complicated marketing material you are working on," I said, watching his face fall. "You need to be able to explain in basic English what you want before you can expect to write it out in a sales brochure."

Poor kid, he's only got one more day ... where I'll give him as much pronunciation and basic business sales vocab as I can. In two hours.

The sad thing is, there are plenty of people in the building who speak his language and could have helped him express his goals more clearly had he only swallowed his pride. He's had almost three months. Now he's going to have to go home and fall down on the sword ... and probably blame the teacher whose name he doesn't even know.