As an English teacher in Latvia, one of the hardest things to teach is articles (‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘an’ for the grammatically-challenged among you). They don’t exist in Latvian or Russian so students have a hard time knowing when to use ‘the’, when to use ‘a’ or ‘an’, and when to leave them out entirely – zero article. So you’ll hear things like ‘I like walking in forest’, ‘I love the mushrooms’, ‘I went to the bed’ and ‘the women should be kept barefoot and pregnant in kitchen’.
Of course, I can understand the problem. There are a lot of rules and if you’re not used to them, they can be really difficult to get your head around. But because they’re difficult, students develop a ‘Meh, they’re not important. People can understand me if I don’t use them’ attitude.
But, not one to give up so easily, I try to give them some examples to illustrate that yes, incorrect usage can make a difference. Picture the scene: you’re standing in a bar and a cute guy comes over. Things are going well until he comes out with ‘I like beatles’. You think ‘Great, why do I always attract the bug-collecting whackjobs?’ and make a hasty exit (before things get to the ‘it rubs the lotion on its skin’ stage).
Whereas if he says ‘I like THE Beatles’, you think ‘Well, I’m more of an Elvis girl myself but…’. The point is, at least you’re not running for the door. However, trying to convince my students is often a losing battle. And being the only one who gives a damn in a packed classroom can be a very lonely feeling. So, in an effort to cheer myself up, I thought I’d adapt (butcher?) the Tammy Wynette classic “Stand by your man” to reflect how I feel about it all. Here goes…
STAND BY YOUR ‘AN’
Sometimes it’s hard to be a teacher,
Especially when you teach a Latvian,
They say they had egg,
You say it’s AN egg,
They smile and say it’s just an ‘an’.
But though a part of you is dying,
You grit your teeth and keep on trying,
When tears start raining,
Just keep explaining,
‘Cos after all, they’re Latvian.
Stand by your ‘an’,
And ‘a’ and ‘the’ and ‘zero’,
Make articles your hero,
Although it can get lonely.
Stand by your ‘an’,
And show them that you mean it,
Keep going ’til your marker’s dry-y-y-y,
Stand by your ‘an’.
Come to think of it, maybe if I spent more time concentrating and less time making up little songs in my head, my students would learn more. But for now, it’s Friday night so Tammy, take it away…