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A tale of two ... visitors the phrase is based on the title of one of Dickens’ novels The Tale of Two Cities. The ‘two cities’ are London and Paris in the time of the French Revolution. The phrase ‘a tale of two ... ‘ has started to be widely used by journalists in all kinds of headlines with different nouns added, e.g. ‘a tale of two diets’
The Secret Diary of Mrs A.

Mrs A, an English teacher and a mother of two teenagers - Julka and Maciek - is a regular feature of our pages. In this issue, multilingualism, she uses idioms that have become language clichés. You can find them all in The Penguin Dictionary of Clichés by Julia Cresswell. If you need any help understanding the idiomatic expressions used in her diary, just place the mouse over the purple ball following an underlined word or phrase. And if you’d like to learn more, try doing our literary and film crossword puzzles.

9th May, Thursday

Surprise, surprise! Rychu, our PE teacher, has asked me a favour. Does he take me for a good Samaritana person who comes at the moment when most needed. The parable of the Good Samaritan features in Luke’s Gospel? His sister came to Poland for a couple of days bringing her family. She’s married to a Dane and has been living in Copenhagen for the last fifteen years or so. Apparently there’s some family reunion taking place over the weekend, hence the visit. All in all,the phrase is often used for summing up. It means ‘considering everything’. Recently it has become a mere filler Rychu’s niece and nephew don’t speak much Polish and are rather bored here, so could I please let them come to my lessons? Their English is very good and it may be some fun for the class. For better or worsea phrase used to suggest that a person is ready to accept the bad results of an action as well as the good ones (taken from the wedding service) I agreed and Rychu actually said, thank you”. Just a knee-jerk responsean automatic reaction, I guess. I teach three lessons on Friday so that should keep them busy, whether interested is another matter.

10th May, Friday

Lesson 1

At eight o’clock sharp Rychu brought the twins in. Peter and Petra. Both the spitting imagelook extremely similar to that person of him. Is his own sister an identical twin? The class was II d, the original plan for the lesson - revision of  ‘conditional sentences’. Quite unexpectedly the kids proved to be manna from heavencompletely unexpected help which solves the problem when you need it most. Instead of all these worn out questions, like ‘what would you do if you won a lot of money?’ or ‘if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?’ my class had to produce some sentences starting ‘if we were pupils in Denmark’. And that meant they had to get some information from our guests. I was happy to see that they took painsmake an effort to complete the task and by the end of the lesson all group secretaries (I decided to have group work, after all, II d is a mixed ability class) had written their sentences on the board.

            If we were pupils in Denmark....

... our English would be much better than it is now. (Hardly a compliment to my teaching methods and a gross exaggerationmaking sth. seem much bigger, more important or worse than it really is.)

... our English teacher would also teach us cooking. (Adding insult to injurymake a situation even more unpleasant and upsetting?)

... we could also learn German, Russian, Swedish and Norwegian. (Soon they’ll tell me multilingualism is the best thing since sliced breadsth. new and very useful or very helpful; the phrase is usually used ironically)

... we would get better marks, like 7,8,9 or even 13. (A pie in the skya promise of sth good to make you work today that is unlikely to happen in reality and jam tomorrowsth. that is very fashionable. And since when is 13 their lucky number?)

... we would be able to play football at school. (So football is still all the ragesth. that is very fashionable? Yes, cooking and football, someone’s the follower of the politics of bread and circusesactivities which are designed for keeping people happy so that they don’t ask difficult questions.)

The lesson was a success, as good as it getsno expectation of anything better, even the Passive Voice was correctly used so I felt quite optimistic before the next one.

Lesson 2

Blackboard jungleschool or class that is difficult or out of control: Class III a. I slightly modified the task. Now they had to decide what were the greatest differences between Polish and Danish schools. (Why didn’t I remember that comparisons are odiousone should not compare things because it sometimes does not do justice to the things compared?) Perhaps I expected to hear about cooking again or the system of grading, from 0 to 13. To my surprise the class found out even stranger things. English is taught from books written by Danish authors! The same teacher may teach different subjects! Most teachers are qualified to teach four or even six! I dreaded someone asking me which extra five subjects I would choose as a speciality. I couldn’t even think of one! Luckily the bell rang and the lesson was over. All’s well that ends welldespite what may have gone before the outcome is good.

Lesson 3

Slightly apprehensive and expecting a bumpy ridehaving a difficult time I waited for what class II b would uncover - my class, the pick of the bunchthe best, many of them rather inquisitive. It was to be ‘conversation practice’, but soon changed into students trying to learn from Peter and Petra ‘some useful Danish phrases’ and paying them back with ‘the most vital Polish expressions.’ This was no longer good clean funnot obscene. Suddenly Konrad suggested writing things on the board so that ‘everybody could copy and memorise something important’. They were getting out of linebehaving unacceptably or in a way that does not conform to the norm and the situation was turning into ‘there are no taboo words in foreign languages and anything goeseverything may be accepted’. I had to intervene. I asked P. and P. to write in Danish a sentence about Poland. After a short exchange, Peter wrote on the board:

            Polen er et smukt og gaestfri land -  and then in English

            Poland is a beautiful and hospitable country.

 Dominik added:

            Polska to piêkny i goœcinny kraj.

And Petra wrote:

            Polen ist ein schones und gastfreundliches Land.

And before I realized what was happening, kids were queuing to put more versions.

            Polonia es un pais bonito y hospitalario.

            La Pologne est un pays beau et accueillant.

            Polonia e un paese pieno di ospitalita e bellezze.

            Lengyelorszag szep es vendegszereto orszag.

            Polska e prekrasna i gostoprimliva zemja.

So we had German, Spanish, French, Italian and even Hungarian and Macedonian. The kids looked at me, proud of themselves and yet expectant. Could I add anything to the list? A Polish teacher of English, qualified to teach one subject only - would they witness my abject failuretotal failure without even trying or did I have an ace up my sleevehave a secret advantage with which one could win or be successful? I slowly wrote in careful lettering:

            Polsa xaza, komiarsall miettig yu.

That’s in Chechen, if you want to know.” I don’t think they believed me.


Follow-up Activities

  1. You can try the quiz based on some of the idioms.
  2. For the full list of idioms used in the diary, click here.


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