I work with several sections of students, one of which is the bilingual section. Most of these bilingual section students have had English class since primary school and now attend every class in English except for math and language. In class, they speak English. Occasionally during recess they speak English. They still make mistakes, of course, but it's really quite impressive to watch these 12-year-olds in action.
Generally, my job is to go over the speaking and listening exercises in their textbooks, helping them with pronunciation and providing them with a native accent to emulate. Occasionally I teach an actual grammar lesson, but the teacher is much better at it, so I usually defer to her so I can watch and learn.
Today, however, she was called out of class and asked me to teach Reported Speech. What Speech, you say? Yes, that's what I said last week.
Take a moment to note the differences between these two dialogues:
- "Are you happy?" she asked him.
- She asked him if he was happy.
The second is an example of reported speech. It probably seems like a no-brainer to flip the two, doesn't it? But I would like to point out that the verb tense of the question changes, as well as the word order... and it is no longer a question. And you use a different order for a question such as, "Where are you going?" Additionally, 'may' changes to 'might,' 'can' changes to 'could,' etc. Complicated stuff.
Luckily, I had introduced the concept with an activity on Tuesday, so I was familiar with the nuances. Taking a deep breath, I started in. It actually went quite well, and the students quickly picked up on the differences between reporting statements and questions, etc. By the time we got to reporting orders and commands, the teacher was back and I handed it over. She is really fantastic about asking students to apply the information immediately with verbal question-and-response, and after teaching about reporting commands, she began to go around the room, practicing.
The results were comical.
She began with Raul, who was looking at the examples in the book. "Raul," she said evenly. "Don't look at me like that!"
Raul's head snapped up and he looked around in utter confusion. "But I..."
"No, begin, 'Pilar told me....'" Pilar corrected.
Slowly, understanding began to brighten his face as he realized what was going on. "Ah! Pilar told me not to look at her like that!"
A murmur arose from the class, who had been equally confused. They seemed relieved.
Pilar moved on to Javi, a round, sweet boy in the back who is enthusiastic to learn and content to be himself.
"Javi," she asked. "Will you marry me?"
The class erupted, and Javi's face instantly changed colors. It was clear he was trying to construct a diplomatic response and having enormous difficulty; meanwhile, the whole class was urging him to say yes. "Dude, Javi, she wants to marry you!!"
Pilar, not anticipating this response, finally stopped laughing herself. "Pilar asked..." she crowed.
Relief swept over Javi's face as he burst into giggles. "Oh! Pilar asked if I will marry her."
"Would marry, Javi. Would marry, not will."
"Pilar asked if I would marry her," Javi repeated.
Several students repeated this under their breaths, trying it out. Angel, a brilliant bundle of constant energy and disruption, rattled off a few jokes in Spanish at Javi's expense. Pilar silenced him with a look and continued practicing the language with other students. Despite seeing their classmates' repeated confusion, thinking Pilar was really asking them questions, most of the class mistook the exercise and tried to respond to her statements rather than reporting them, and then they bashfully corrected themselves. And as it characteristic, Angel's silence didn't last long, and he was soon back to joking.
"Angel," Pilar cried severely. "Shut up!"
He paused in his conversation, thought for half a moment, and flashed a quick smile. "Pilar said... no, Pilar told me that I must shut up!" he replied, triumphant.
Again caught off guard, Pilar recovered quickly and laughed in spite of herself. "Pilar told me to shut up," she corrected. "You must use the infinitive, remember. But this is real life. Be quiet."
"Pilar said that this was real life," Angel reported dutifully.
Alberto was listening attentively. "Angel said that Pilar said that this wss real life," he muttered, half to himself.
Jose heard it and grinned. "Alberto said that Angel said that Pilar said that this was real life," he called out.
Rafa picked it up. "Jose said that..."
And it was downhill from there.
Now then, after all this, I am happy to report that the 1D students can successfully report what happened today.