Magazine article The Spectator

Learning Difficulties

Magazine article The Spectator

Learning Difficulties

Article excerpt

No life

The Spanish teacher was a quarter of an hour late for the first evening class of the new term. The course was over-subscribed. Elbow room was limited. We sat in embarrassed silence wondering if anyone was going to come to teach us. Then this small, dark, wet woman rushed in pulling off her coat. She seemed taken aback to see so many of us. Deep vertical lines cut into her cheeks as if she had either been very ill or her life had been hard and traumatic.

She was soaked in petrol, she said. A strong gust of wind had blown it over her as she was filling up her car. She'd been trying to sponge it off her clothes. That was why she was late. Her name was Francesca, by the way. She came from Columbia.

`Hola,' she said. She wrote 'hola' on the blackboard and invited us to repeat it in unison. The lady next to me pronounced it languidly as `Hoe Lah.'

Then Francesca remembered something. Before she went any further, she said, safety regulations dictated that she showed us the way to the nearest fire-escape. So, if we would all like to follow her for a moment. We stood up and she led us through a door at the far end of the classroom and into a large stationery cupboard. I was one of those in the van who blindly followed her right in to the cupboard. It was dark in there and there was a strong smell of petrol. `That's funny,' she said, `they must have altered the building.'

We returned to our desks. The visit to the fire-escape was postponed. Francesca went around the class asking us our names and what we hoped to get out of the course. Some said they were learning Spanish for `something to do'; others said they regularly went on holiday to Spain and thought it was about time they made a serious effort to speak the language. A couple wearing identical fleeces were thinking of opening a bar on the Costa Blanca. I said I was learning it in order to be able to read the articles in the Spanish magazine Toros. A man in a check sports jacket who had been under the impression that we were the Intermediate French class apologised and left.

To break the ice, Francesca got us to introduce ourselves to each other in Spanish. I had to say `Como te Hamas?' (What's your name, then?) to Beth, a mobile caterer. And Beth was supposed to reply, `Me Hamo Beth'. …

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