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Lessons in English

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Lessons in English | story.one

She sits with her head in her hands "I can’t remember anything. Even the simplest words are gone!” We’d been through this before. Depression, cancellations, long gaps between courses. Frustrated, I put down my notes and sigh. “What do you really want, Anna?”

She gathers her words and quietly says "I want to speak English fluently. I want to be healthy. I want a normal routine. I want to have contact with people again. I want to be happy."

The moment she speaks, I know this isn't a regular English lesson. I quickly write down her words. She pauses, glancing up at me sheepishly like she has broken the rules and I am about to scold her. Instead, I tell her to take out her cell phone and press RECORD. We hover over the phone on the table between us, pinning the words down for good. “I want to speak English fluently, I want to be healthy,..”. Her homework is to repeat the words every day until they are carved deep into her consciousness. We end the lesson feeling smug. Have we cracked the code to end her melancholy? We hope so.

Elke strides confidently into the studio with her chihuahua, Chico. She carries a thick, dog-eared notebook filled with new vocabulary (vigorous, off-beat, arms akimbo, benevolence). Immediately, I’m ignited with a passion for words and the desire to unfold the meaning of each one. Chico plops onto my lap for his weekly nap. She begins,“Arms akimbo? What does it mean and why would I ever need it?” I stand up, place my hands on my hips (arms akimbo stance) and throw my chin in the air. “To show impatience, Elke. And attitude!” She ignores my theatrics. Taking notes she mumbles “Ahh.. I’ll definitely use that.” Chico snuggles back up on my lap, insulted by the rude interruption. He nudges my hand with his nose and I gently pet him back to sleep.

On sunny, winter mornings, I meet Tina in the Samermösl for a Walk & Talk . Hawks screech and glide high over the treetops on the Heuberg. We continue our lesson like it's the norm, but we know it’s a privilege to learn in this environment. Between grammar corrections and new vocabulary I record all of nature’s distractions in our conversational lesson. A snow-white weasel, a silver crane, a storck landing with a splash in the creek by our path. We end red-cheeked and full of energy for the rest of our day.

Cargo shipping negotiations are the last thing on Ben's mind. He's worried about his grieving wife, whose father died a few days before. Normally, he's an over-prepared, strong speaker in the lessons, but today he can't put a straight sentence together. He doesn't have the strength to get up and go, either. We decide to scrap the plan for the day and just talk. As long as it's in English and I take notes, it's still a course. The grief pours out of him, and I listen.

Ben thanks me before leaving, but I’m the one who is grateful. I’ve been gifted a thousand stories, a million perspectives. Simply a mutual giving and receiving of profound, emotional, funny and curious lessons between strangers. All in the name of learning English.

© Marie Motil 2020-04-30

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