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Teaching the moon to meow 0

Dear Bradshaw,

Lorenzo is having a hard time learning English. Though only nine years old, he’s been studying the language at school for two years, and yet when I met him for the first time and asked, “Hello, how are you?” he looked at me as if I’d spoken Arabic or farted out of my foot.

I spent five minutes teaching him: “I’m fine, thank you.” and he eventually remembered and repeated it correctly, but it was a battle for the both of us.

While explaining the verb “to be” I drew a chart, and then turned the page in his workbook to the first exercise:

1. ____’m fine.

a) I

b) My

Lorenzo chose ‘b’, writing: My’m fine.

In Italian, I explained the mistake, indicating the row on the chart and then showing him that the word “my” wasn’t even on the chart. For this reason, I drew a second chart with subject pronouns and possessive adjectives. After I had described the difference, we moved to the next question:

2. I’m fine, thank ____.

a) you

b) your

Lorenzo wrote: I’m fine, thank is.

Again in Italian, I explained his mistake, adding that he should stick to one of the choices provided instead of inventing his own as he would have more likelihood of success.

At home that night, when I told Francesca about Lorenzo, she asked me if I knew what he had eaten for lunch. In fact, Lorenzo had come to the first lesson eating a chocolate sandwich (Nutella is a popular spread in Italy and used in place of peanut butter) and to the second lesson eating a chocolate egg.

“There’s the problem,” Francesca said. “The poor kid’s mind is mush.”

Today, after Lorenzo had devoured half a bag of Ringos (the Italian equivalent of Oreos) I had him review the vocabulary words in his notebook. We do this at the beginning of every lesson, adding two or three words each week. By now he has about fifteen words. After five minutes, I gave him a worksheet with the words written in English and told him to write the Italian translation for each word. Then, immediately after, I gave him the same exact words in Italian, which he had to write in English.

From English to Italian, he got three words out of ten, leaving the other seven blank. From Italian to English, he got two out of ten, leaving four blank while writing words like “better” as “battre”, “both as “bhot”, “funny” as “fanny”. He even wrote “thre is” for “there is” but immediately below it “there are” was spelled correctly.

So am I a terrible teacher, or is the culprit Nutella, Ringos, and chocolate eggs? Lorenzo’s definitely not interested in English. Like many Italian kids his age, he prefers soccer, television and video games. Anyway, Shaw, there are times when I think I’d be better off trying to teach the moon to meow, or to slice a skyscraper in half with my head.

One thing’s for sure, if I manage to teach Lorenzo English, my next feat will be to turn water into wine and then walk on it.

Wish me luck!

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