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The dynamics of the correct answer 0

Dear Bradshaw,

I taught Rossella yesterday. Though she signed up for another 60 hours months ago, I haven’t had any lessons with her since our last fiasco, so I was both pleased and surprised to see she’d reached the unit on irregular verbs.

There were two columns of eight verbs in the first exercise: base form on the left with, on the right, the same verbs conjugated in the past. Rossella had to connect each verb with its irregular past.

More or less, the exercise looked like this:

come                            said

make                            went

have                             saw

be                                found

say                              had

find                              was

see                               came

go                                made

Paola aced “come” and “make”. But when she tried to connect “have” with “was”, and I shook my head, she was stumped.

“Why not?” she asked in Italian, pounding the desktop.

“Because,” I said, speaking slowly and articulating my words, “‘was’ is not the past of ‘have’.”

Squinting her eyes, she bit her lower lip, and I thought I could see fog clouding her pupils. After rescanning the list of verbs, she said, “Have, found.”

“Nope,” I said.

“Have, was.”

“Have, was, is wrong. I’ve already said that.”

“Have, saw.”


“Have, found.”

By the process of elimination, we arrived at “have, had” though it took much longer than it should have, and I’m not sure Rossella understood the dynamics of the correct answer.

The next conundrum occurred while she was reading the subsequent text and couldn’t figure out what the word “and” meant. She insisted on translating the word as “with”, even though “with” made no sense in the context of the sentence, which she seemed to understand well enough, and trying to lead her to the correct translation was like trying to add an eighth day to the week.

Shaking her head, she looked at me and, again speaking Italian, said, “When people speak to me in English at work, I understand, but when I have to speak English to them I get blocked.”

“Speak English here,” I said, again speaking slowly and enunciating every word. “You always speak to me in Italian. Speak English. That’s why you’re here, and that’s how you learn.”

Rossella blinked several times. Then she nodded her head, and said, “Fine, thank you.”

I have to say, Shaw, the lesson was staggering. The hour seemed to have lasted a lifetime. I know, I know, that’s a terrible thing to say but the truth shall set you free, as the saying goes, and yes, I know my job is my job. Luckily, Rossella is a kind person with a heart of gold, and that helps . . . a little.

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