This morning, I had an (of course) online lesson with a group of students who work at a pan-European company. The Spanish and the Italians didn’t show up – 8 a.m. isn’t exactly my finest hour either so I can’t say I really blame them – so I was faced with eight Germans, one Dutch guy and a French girl. It’s a start-up so they all look like foetuses and have Very Important Sounding Management Titles in teams that, to my 44-year-old ears, have no business existing. Champions Team. Onboarding Manager. Conceptionist… No, just no.
Anyway, we’d been studying the present simple and present continuous for the last few weeks so I devised (i.e. stole from a website) a genius idea to use the tenses in a speaking exercise. I suppose most of you are wearily familiar with Zoom by now but, for those of you who aren’t, there is a chat function where you can send messages to individual participants. So, the idea was that I would send a student a word – it could be a person, an object or a verb – and they would have to describe it to the others who had to try to guess the word.
To demonstrate, I typed “Ed Sheeran” on the whiteboard and asked how they would describe him.
Ute: Ed Sheeran is…
Me: Yeah Ute, it kind of defeats the purpose if the person’s name is the first thing you say. Try again.
Ute: Oh, right. Erm, he’s a singer. He’s got red hair.
Me: Good enough. I think there’s only one. So, you all get the idea?
All: Silence and staring which you assume means “yes” in a Zoom meeting.
After one of the German guys described a “sneeze” as “like an explosion in your nose”, I thought my day couldn’t get any better but that’s the great thing about this job – people can always surprise you.
I sent “Boris Johnson” to one of the German girls.
“I don’t know who that is.”
I mean, really, I think the world would be a better place if none of us had ever heard of Boris Johnson but how was this even possible?
I sent it to another German and asked her to describe him. I’ll admit that my high hopes of witty, political commentary (or just bitchy comments about his hair and fondness for suitcases of booze) were starting to fall a bit flat at this point.
Lydia: Erm, he has blonde hair. He’s the Premier of England. (I decided this was close enough.)
Silence. Then the French girl unmuted herself to save the day.
Me: Right. Three things: She’s a Chancellor, well, now ex-Chancellor. Of Germany. And, as far as I’m aware, she does not identify as “he”.
Am I wrong to despair for the future?