Sorry for the generic picture of “Woman Reaching For Sky After Overcoming Difficult Challenges”. It’s hard to take a snapshot of one of your students as she jumps around joyfully after successfully interrogating not one, but two receptionists in the US, in English!
So here’s the back story: she’s moving to the States next year, so we've been discussing what kinds of activities she might be interested in doing during the day once she’s unpacked and settled into her new home. One thing was made, and has been being made, abundantly clear during our classes is that once the kids are off to school, she wants plenty of free time for herself – that means gym time and massage time, not necessarily in that order.
As part of our responsibilities as teachers, it is extremely important to provide our students with learning opportunities by somehow engineering and presenting them the chance to engage in authentic language exchange. This is often impossible without having other native speakers on hand. But in a pinch I have used my parents in impromptu calls to work, even asking my dad on one occasion to try to solve a dispute over whether we use “to go on foot” or “to go by foot”. I’m still not sure which one to use. Another of my students has been invited to stay at my parents’ house the next time he goes to New York. I've also had students who were going to the States to skype-call restaurants in their destination cities to see if they booked reservations, or if hotels had package pick-up services. Authentic language exchanges for sure.
Anyway, back to my student. She was concerned about how much a gym membership would cost, and how much she would have to spend on weekly massages. So, as I have done on occasion with other students, I decided to google up a gym that was located near the area she would be living and have her give them a call and discover the information for herself. The look on her face was one of those classic, record-scratching looks like, stop! No! Teacher, you can’t! But I did. To her credit, she is one of those rare students who could literally care less about accuracy, she just craves the communication! She just wants to talk!
And lo, when the first receptionist answered – a nice, mid-western sounding young woman – my student blurts out, “hello, I’m calling from Brazil. Do you have massages there?!” I can imagine the look on the poor receptionist’s face! But she answered very politely that, no, massages were not offered there. Then my student asks, “where can I get one?!” The poor beleaguered receptionist answered in a calm voice that she wasn't sure. So I prompted my student to ask about membership fees, to which she scream-said, “how much does membership costis [sic]?!” The tinny voice on the line answered that it costs $9.99 a month. My student’s face scrunched up in disbelief and she shout-asked, “dollars?! That’s all?!” Hm-hm, answers the receptionist. And in grand, Brazilian devil-may-care fashion my student lecture-yelled, “get ready because I am coming from Brazil and I love to dance and I will be teaching Brazilian dance in your gym to all the ladies from the neighborhood and they will all love me and your gym will be full goodbye!!!” (she actually included no punctuation when she spoke-yelled).
I then called the massage parlor and handed my student the phone. The connection wasn't as clear, so the conversation was a bit more challenging. But she persevered and asked if they had very strong massages that hurt the skin and left marks. Yes, well, they offered the deep tissue massage, assured the receptionist. They also offered the hot rock massage, but apparently that wasn't painful enough for my student. She then asked her the prices. My student’s reaction to the answers was a little less sanguine; massages in the States unfortunately cost about the same amount as they do here in Brazil. $50 for a 30-minute massage, $ 70 for a one-hour massage and $ 95 for a 90-minute massage. You could see the disappointment on her face. I think she realized that she wouldn't be able to have a massage on a daily basis, like she thought she might.
Then a strange thing happened. My student yell-commanded the receptionist to give her her name, “what’s your name?!” There was no chance to tell her that demanding someone’s name like that meant that the person had done something wrong and she was going to be reported to the manager. But when the receptionist offered her name up, I then understood that my student just wanted to address the woman using her own name. But my student had misunderstood, and poor massage parlor receptionist Nera was thanked profusely as “Mera”. Though not allowed at most American massage parlors, and despite the misunderstandings, repetitions and high prices, this little adventure did conclude with a successful and very happy ending.
My student put the phone down, launched her hands into the air, fists clenched; threw back her head, eyes shut tight, and yawped, “I communicated in English!!!” The self-satisfaction and joy on her face were contagious. She was ecstatic, and I was very happy for her. This little success story will stay with my student, and it will go a long way to helping her become a strong and confident English speaker. I will miss her when she goes.