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The Best Reason I’ve EVER Heard For Studying English

It’s been a bit quiet on this blog recently, and I’m going to use this post to tell you why. So I leisurely started working on a writing project over nine months ago, but over the last few months it has really dominated all of my free time as I try to get it ready before the Olympics.

But now I’m pleased to announce that the follow up to my first ebook is almost ready, and I’m expecting Brazil: Life After The Honeymoon Period, to be released in the first week of July.

coverAfter I finished Trying to Understand Brazilian Culture I genuinely thought I’d said everything I wanted to about life here. But then there was an incident (that I talk about in the book) which made me recognise I was no longer living in a country whose customs were completely alien to me. This period of my time here was over, and so began the exploration of Brazil from a different perspective.

Incidentally, as I started to reevaluate my place within Brazil, the honeymoon period of the economic boom years in the country was drawing to a close too. I’d arrived here when its economy was the darling of the developing world; strong enough to elevate millions into the middle classes. But times were changing, inflation was rising and a recession was looming. So in 2013 when more than a million Brazilians took to the streets to protest about the state of the country, I was pretty shocked! I’d never seen anything quite like it. Before moving to São Paulo, I’d never questioned what it would be like to live somewhere in which this happened. I know that if my younger, had-never-been-to-Brazil self had known I would have been living in Brazil during these protests, I’m pretty sure he would have wondered what in God’s name I would have still been doing there!

Since publishing Trying to Understand Brazilian Culture I’ve also found that Brazil has not finished with teaching me about the culture of her country too; the good, the bad and the ugly. Although the honeymoon period may well have been over for both me as an expat and for Brazil economically, life here has still proved very interesting…in more ways than one.

The memoir covers a number of topics, such as my experience of being robbed at gun point, why I will forever be linked to São Paulo’s Bin Laden bar, the importance of maids to Brazil, the intriguing celebrity culture in Brazil and also what it is like to teach English in Brazil during a recession.

Actually, what I’m sharing right now is something I’ve written from this chapter on teaching. It looks increasingly likely that it will not to make the final cut though, because, well…it has very little to do with Brazil. Having said this, it is a story that I love to tell over here and really enjoyed writing. It comes from the time I spent teaching English in Japan, and it goes some way to show that people’s motives for studying English are not always going to be predictable.

Here goes:

One afternoon in rural Japan I was giving a class to an elderly woman who I’d already been teaching for about a year. She always arrived on time, would be immaculately dressed and generally had a story or two about her grand kids. Actually, it was always the same story or two that she’d like to tell me.

Then one class I asked her why she had chosen to study English.

Before she answered, I was fully expecting her to tell me that she was learning the language because she wanted to help her grand kids with their homework. This was often the case with the elderly women I used to teach at my school. But no; this woman was motivated to study for an entirely different reason.

“Well, I was once staying in a lovely hotel in Tokyo with my husband,” she began. “We had planned to go out to a nearby restaurant for dinner and, because I was dressed and ready before him, I told him that I would wait for him downstairs. So I went down and sat on a sofa in the hotel lobby. I chose to sit close to the lift so that when my husband came down I could spot him easily. Then about fifteen minutes later the lift doors opened. Of course, I was expecting to see my husband walking out of them. But it wasn’t him.”mariah1

My student sat up in her chair and leaned in towards me.

“Walking out of the lift, just ten meters from where I was sitting was…Mariah Carey.”

When my student had started this story she’d sounded casually excited to be telling it, but by this point she was looking positively rapturous.

“Amazing!” I exclaimed (and I REALLY meant it!), before she continued.

“So, I ran over to the elevator, screaming ‘Mariah! Mariah!”

“Sorry?” I asked, in total disbelief! “You did what?” But before my student had had the chance to answer, I’d hurriedly asked another question. “What did she do?”

“Her security guards held me back, but I was screaming her name so loud that she definitely heard me!  But then I realised something. Even if Mariah had stopped to talk to me I would have had problems speaking to her in English. I love Mariah, so I decided if I ever see her again, I would want to be able to do more than scream her name. I would want to be able to have a full conversation with her, in English. And so here I am taking classes!”

Very rarely am I ever stunned into silence, but the thought of this cute grandmother being physically restrained by some big, burly security guards genuinely shocked me! And from this moment on I began looking at this woman through a completely different set of eyes!

Unfortunately, I have no idea if she ever did meet Mariah but I’d really like to imagine that she did. I’d love to think that she bumped into Mariah in a cocktail lounge or something where she was invited to join Mariah’s table. Once there, maybe my student could have told her those two stories about her grandchildren over few glasses of champagne!

As an English teacher, this was also the moment that I realised that people’s reasons for learning English were not always going to be predictable, and this has definitely been true of my experiences of teaching some of my students in Brazil.

What’s the most interesting reason you’ve ever heard for learning another language?

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