Friday, 26 February 2016

The Credit Class

And so the Returned Alumna skittered over the icy pavement into one of the buildings of her Alma Mater, not--alas--as a professor but as a guest student permitted to visit the Thursday "Intermediate Polish" class. Such was the woman's obsession with Polish that she had enjoined both her own Polish night school teacher and a professor of theology--whose Polish surname is but a happy accident--to write reference letters to the instructor. This precaution turned out not to be necessary, as the lecturer had warmly received the Returned Alumna's email, charmed by her enthusiasm for Polish, as professors of Polish Language and Literature tend to be.

Amusing, the Returned Alumna arrived in the classroom before all the undergrads, high as a kite on the mug of coffee she had drunk before class so as to be as alert and brainy as possible. If only she had been as conscientious when she herself was an undergraduate. Truly youth is wasted on the young.

"Cześć," she said when an undergrad girl arrived.

"Cześć," said the undergrad girl with a surprised but cheerful glance.

"Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz?" said the young, bespectacled woman professor to the newcomer.

"Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz," said the girl, with a marked Toronto accent. "Bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz-bzz."


"Bzz-bzz-bzz. Bzz."

"Oh dear," thought the Returned Alumna, upon whom all this rapid-fire Polish was lost. "Elementary Polish must have been a really intensive course."

Two more students appeared, and they too bizzed and buzzed in speeding Polish as the Returned Alumna strained her ears and caffeinated brain to determine what was going on, and the students handed over their homework (typed sheets of four paragraphs or so) and opened their textbook (Krok Po Kroku 2) to Chapter 14.

To her alarm, the Returned Alumna soon found herself called upon to make up a sentence using the word "bogaci" (rich people), although it turned out that she really was supposed to be asserting some perceived difference between rich people in Toronto and in Poland. The teacher observed that many rich people everywhere live in "dużych domach."

But then the kindly professor began to give the Returned Alumna photocopies of material in the textbook, and so the latter was better able to preserve the honour of her Polish night school teacher and Edinburgh University's "Languages for All" program. One branch of Polish studies the Returned Alumna is good at is reading Polish aloud, and so she acquitted herself quite well in this.

The subject of the lesson was Personal Pronouns, which are very tricky and  not taught as a block in Edinburgh, for fear we would all drop out. So this was quite a useful lesson. And there was a super exercise in which a voice from a CD read a film précis while the class read along and filled in the blanks with the personal pronouns the voice used. Not only was this a fun challenge, it resulted in the teacher questioning students on the Polish films they had seen, and the Returned Alumna had seen Popioł i Diamenty, Niewinni Czarodzieje, Eroica, Nóż w Wodzie  (etc.) whereas of all the other four students in the room (the last came late), only one had seen a Polish film, and it was Disco Polo.

The one man in the room--K.--thought the Returned Alumna's opinion that Wajda was very romantic (especially compared to the usual run of cynics who shot 20th century Polish films) was quite funny although he never expressed why. Twenty years ago the Returned Alumna would have been crushed, but twenty year old boys have very little influence over forty-plus women who are not their mothers, so the Returned Alumna was merely puzzled.

The two hours flashed by, and the Returned Alumna thought it had been a good, challenging class, that she had been very lucky to be allowed to attend, and that Krok Po Kroku 2 would make a fine addition to her growing collection of Polish textbooks .Afterwards, when the Returned Alumna and the professor were alone, the latter explained that she spoke so quickly because all the students have Polish roots and already speak Polish quite fluently: they just don't know the grammar or how to spell.

The Returned Alumna reflected that listening to rapid Polish (especially when having to fill in blanks) is just what she needs to do to improve her Polish for, it turns out, listening to Polish is even harder than speaking Polish. The scale of difficulty is really reading--writing--speaking--listening.

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