Jun 5, 2008

Beyond Smalltalk

This is an addendum to the last post.

Joseph had a good point in the comments
- awkward silences do suck. I know that not all conversation can be high-quality conversation. Most of everything isn't high-quality. I guess my issue is having to intentionally and deliberately teach something that I don't care for. That's what makes me superconscious of it. I've also become aware that as an EFL teacher, I've acquired a certain amount of ease and comfort with smalltalk, and I'm honestly good at it. I feel very socially acute because of this, but it's without a certain feeling of shallowness as well.

I do have very real conversations with my students. Just yesterday I had a really excellent one about the comparable prevalence of non-traditional families in the U.S. and Japan. Another student also caught me off guard by asking me about the religious agenda of the Narnia books. That kind of came out of nowhere, but it was because she'd just seen Prince Caspian. Also, she'd read a translation of the series as a kid, and her mother expressed some unease about it, hearing that it was designed to teach Christianity to children. She asked me about all this, and I ended up talking about C.S. Lewis, and why the Screwtape Letters was one of the most infuriating books I ever read, to the point where I couldn't finish it.

As a teacher, I live for that kind of stuff. Getting them to honestly express themselves about really interesting matters is extremely rewarding, and I can definitely ask the right questions and run a stimulating conversation. I like to think that's why I'm a teacher- I'd rather that they learn English to talk about things like social issues and literature and such, rather than just about the weather.

That's probably a big part of my distaste for smalltalk. I might overestimate my students, but I think that if you have talent enough to be conversant in a foreign language, there's got to be something to you. There has to be something interesting, real and awesome about you, something more than the shallowness that smalltalk evokes. There have to be opinions and ideas about bigger issues than the weather in those English-learning minds, right?

I know there are, and I know also that quality discourse doesn't surface all the time. There are plenty of times where I just blank out and can't think of anything to say. That's not a bad thing, it happens to everyone, and I realize that it could very well happen more often in a foreign language.

Still, I know I'm going to hear about the weather today (it's sunny today, by the way) when I go to work later. It's part of my job to talk about it, and really. Still, I hope that the interactions that I have with my students rise above such things, and that we forget the obvious and use their newly acquired language for something honestly interesting.


Eric said...

I prefer small talk that revolves around sports, but that's harder to implement in an office where people don't pay any attention sports. There were many people that weren't even aware that the Celtics were playing in the NBA finals tonight! What the hell?

Joseph said...

The whosits playing in the whatnots?