Joys of An English Tutor

I was reading an article this morning on the dos & don’ts of English grammar and it took my mind back to those pleasant days when we lived in Saskatoon and I was a volunteer English tutor for Bosnian immigrants.

I loved tutoring English, both when we lived in Quebec – where a high school student actually paid me for the lessons! – and working through Saskatoon Open Door tutoring women who otherwise didn’t get out and mingle much in this new land. Being a tutor suits me to a T. For one thing I love it when people want to listen to me – my opinions especially. In fact I had to be careful; people who don’t know a language very well are only to happy to let their teacher do the talking, but this doesn’t help either of them much.

Actually getting paid to talk…well, life just doesn’t get any better. Mind you, actually getting paid to write would be up there, too. (And getting paid to write my opinions…. Oh, bliss! Anyone buying?)

Looking back, I suppose I could have gone in for a lawyer and gotten paid very well to talk. But when I was in my teens I had this crazy notion I’d like to be a psychologist or sociologist, so if I had made it to University I would have missed my calling anyway. I also would have learned that psychologists and sociologists are supposed to study other people, not just spout off themselves. That likely would have spoiled it for me.

I might have considered being a performer. Folks pay well to hear them, too, but it would have cost me too much in cosmetic surgeries. I could have been a teacher, but I have this phobia of children, especially in groups. This is likely because Dad V (my birth father) stuck me with a totally un-with-it name and I was tormented by schoolmates. I didn’t realize before I started school that my name was so hilarious, but by the time I hit my teens I cringed to tell people my name. I became a classic “loner.”

When I was thirteen I couldn’t handle it anymore. As luck would have it, Mom & Dad F and I moved that year and they were sympathetic, so I changed my name. (Not without Dad V’s strong objections. Long story; maybe I’ll tell it someday.) Though I knew little about religion at that point, I wanted to be a Christian someday so I picked that as my first name.

I’m digressing big time but now you understand why my feelings toward children have always been iffy; they so easily intimidate me. Except when I’m tutoring them in English. Then you have something they want to learn and they pay attention. They’re not just there to fool around and poke fun. (I daresay public schools suffer much from this malady.)

Anyway, as a friend once said, “I’m glad I was born here and never had to learn English!” As an English tutor I heartily agree. After studying French I agree even more. English grammar, they say, is simple, but there are some major obstacles to overcome before you can call yourself fluent.

I’ll deal with one hurdle today. If you just want to speak English, you can go along at a fairly good pace using memorization. But sooner or later you have to read something, or write something, and you come across the nightmare of English spelling.

I herewith propose my theory about English spelling. Since English was a composite of different languages and dialects all jumbled together, when the ancestors wanted to invent a written language, they through threw the whole vocabulary into a huge pot and stirred it around. Some words got stirred enough that they lost a letter or two, some letters got inverted, some words got new ends stuck on, while some stayed more or less intact.

Then the inventors took a big fork, started pulling out words and pasting them, just as they came out, into something they decided to call a dictionary. This theory of mine successfully explains why siege is “ie” and seize is “ei” and why monkeys and hankies don’t match.

As I said, I loved tutoring English and seeing my students make progress. However, should a student get to the point where she felt she had a good handle on the language, I’d pull out a slip of paper with this phrase written on it and have her read it.

It’s rough enough through the slough, though the boughs are falling down. But you ought to bring a plough and plow a trough wherein the water can be caught.

It kept folks humble.

If you can read this, you know English. Go tutor.


7 thoughts on “Joys of An English Tutor

    • The difference I see:
      Your second graders can go about anywhere, understand, and be understood by, almost everyone around them. Where then is the urgency to learn proper English?

      The people I tutored were perplexed wherever they went, catching a few words now and then and wondering what people were saying. (As I was in Quebec.) They’d go to the store to ask for a… a… a…that thing you need to turn… um… round things. If they were lucky enough to have a picture, someone would tell them, “Oh, that’s a wrench.”

      Hence the need to understand and be understood was a constant motivator for them and they were eager students. Great setting and a privilege for me. (More about this tomorrow.)


      • P.s.: Yes, I’m feeling well. Getting out and working in the garden has revived my spirits, plus having the doctor tell me this type of leukemia could give minimal trouble for years. I say the specialist last week Monday and he’s supposed to give me a confirmation of the diagnosis in a few weeks.


    • I guess you’ll have to break it down into poem form so you can digest it. 🙂
      It’s rough enough
      through the slough
      though the boughs
      But you can imagine how an ESL student would almost faint trying to get it all straight.
      Thanks for your prayers and blessing, dear fellow-soldier in the Lord. I hope you are enjoying the same Love and Peace.


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