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Dear Bradshaw,

Yesterday morning I had a lesson with Rossella, an absolute beginner who has almost completed her 60-hour course with us. She’s been coming to our school for about seven months now, two or three times a week, and speaks about as much English as I speak Eskimo. During the lessons she’s had with me, she continues to pronounce words like “he” as “kee” and “his” and “kiz”. Believe me, Shaw, I’ve written the alphabet over and over while explaining the sounds the letters make, and I’ve stopped her every time she says “kee” instead of “he”, explaining again and again that the “h” makes an “h” sound and the “k” a “k” sound.

Rossella is sweet, kind, and always on time. She’s determined to learn English but is not catching on, and perhaps never will. To be honest, I’m not so sure her elevator goes all the way to the top, or anywhere at all.

So at the end of our lesson yesterday, when Rossella explained that she was nearing the end of her course and did I think she needed to sign up for another 60 hours, I asked, “What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” she said in Italian. “That’s why I’m asking you.”

“Let me ask you this: Are you satisfied with your level of English?”

Rossella gnawed on her knuckle, thinking so hard I expected smoke to billow from her ears. Finally, she shook her head, and said, “No.”

“Okay then, there’s your answer.”

“What’s my answer?”

“Whether or not you need more lessons.”

“Then I need lessons or no? Should I or shouldn’t I sign up for another course?”

“That depends on you,” I said. “Do you think your English is good enough, or do you want to continue to improve?”

“What do you think? Is my English good enough?”

I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly before asking, “Good enough for what? Good enough to get a job where you’ll need English on a daily basis? I imagine you’d find that difficult. Good enough to travel around London, eat in restaurants, and ask people for directions? I suspect that would be tough too. The decision is yours though. A person can always improve his or her language skills.”

Rossella’s eyes glowed and she smiled so wide I saw all her crooked teeth. She was staring at me as if I had explained the blueprints of the universe and now finally she could follow the Yellow Brick Road to the end of the rainbow to collect her pot of gold.

People come in all shapes and sizes, Shaw, and probably that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t change the fact that the following truths are held to be self-evident:

1) All men are created equal, and 2) if you cannot correctly pronounce a word like “he” after 60+ hours of English lessons then you absolutely, definitely, most certainly need to sign up for another course if you hope to learn the language.

Case closed.

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