September 28th, 2019

alphabetsoup

SPEAKING OF WHICH

Years ago, a friend who was a teacher asked me to speak to her English students about my thoughts and opinions of living in Sweden. I don't remember much about it, except that I stood in front of a class of high school kids and told them what my experiences were and answered their questions. My kids were small then, and I had only been in Sweden for a handful of years or so.

Now, I've lived here for nearly 23 years. My kids are, to all intents and purposes, grown and heading out on their own adult journeys. They aren't teenagers, they aren't in high school, and they speak English as well as I do. My life here has changed a lot, but to be honest, it's only gotten better. If I was telling those kids what my thoughts and opinions are of living in Sweden today, I'd pretty much be telling them the same thing I told those kids back then: I love it here. I have a great life.

Several months ago, one of Karin's old teachers from her middle school sent me a message and asked me if I'd be interested and available to speak to HER English class as part of their Language Appreciation Day activities. I said yes without hesitation because why not? I don't really have problems these days speaking in public and I wouldn't mind giving my thoughts and opinions about whatever she wanted.

She was never very clear about what exactly I was going to do, so I sort of thought I'd be speaking in front of a class like I did that one time years ago. She sent me a list of topics & questions that she had prepared and they were all about the role English plays in my life, my career and the world. I didn't write a speech or anything and figured I could wing it pretty well from her list. But when I got there, last Thursday, the setup was not at all what I was expecting.

It was interview speed-dating, y'all. With me as the speed date. Hrm. haha! Actually, there were 8 of us, plus 2 people on video who couldn't be there in person. Of the other interviewees in my room, one was a teacher at the school, too, who teaches ESL, one was a Vietnamese student at Lund University and the other woman was Greek but I never found out what she does for a living. We were set up at separate tables in two rooms and then for 2 hours we had first year gymnasium English students (16-year-olds, mostly), who came in groups and had 6 minutes to interview each of us, while taking notes on our answers.

Guess what questions they asked me? Yep, verbatim from the list their teacher had sent me in advance:
  • What is your job now? Can you describe it in a few simple sentences?
  • Where did you learn your English? Is it your mother tongue or a second or third language?
  • What is your attitude toward English at work?
  • How much do you encounter English in your career? How necessary is it in your job?
  • Knowing what you know today, what would you advise your high school self to do differently in regards to learning languages?
  • What do you wish your colleagues could do better with English?
Et cetera, et cetera.

Apparently the kids were supposed to come up with their OWN questions, but the vast majority of the kids read off these exact same questions along with the others that had been supplied to me. So I spent 2 hours mostly answering these questions over and over for the incoming groups. I was a little appalled at the teenageriness of the kids, to be honest. Most of them had fairly major attitudes, were borderline annoying, not prepared, and some were obviously bored and just doing the minimum to comply. There were a few that were motivated and asked their questions seriously, seemed genuinely interested in the answers and took notes. But most of them were metaphorically snapping their gum about the whole thing.

As kids in the Swedish system, most of whom have been learning English since they were 7 or 8 years old, their level of comprehension was a bit disappointing. Not all of them, of course, but enough that it was marked.

A few stood out though. Not because of their English proficiency or their attitude, but because they were the ones who HAD prepared their own questions. They were the bright spots in a long 2 hours. One boy asked me what kind of car I drive, and then asked if I liked driving fast on the autobahn when I told him it was a Volkswagen Jetta. One had a whole list of different questions: What did I think about Greta Thunberg? Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong Un? Trump? And what did I think we should do to save the sea turtles? (my answer: clean up our shit)

One group of guys were all from Kosovo and we chatted about that a bit, and the fact that their native language is Albanian. As soon as they found out I was American, they peppered me with questions about Trump and politics and what I thought about the Swedish prime minister, and the leader of the right-wing Swedish political party. And several kids asked me how many languages I spoke and then were surprised that I included Swedish, going so far as to ask me to prove it in Swedish and then being amazed when I understood them and answered back. My response: I've lived here 22 years, for pete's sake...it would be weirder if I COULDN'T speak Swedish.

Anyway, it was interesting. Not sure I'd do it again, but it was only 2 hours of my life and it did give me some things to think about. One in particular being that I am REALLY glad that I never pursued teaching with MY English degree! :D