Lessons in grammar evolve into lesson in humanity, via the words of Odessa poet Anna Akhmatova... For Sunday Miscellany on RTÉ Radio 1, listen to English Grammar and Ukrainian Poetry by Rachel Hegarty above.
This weather I find meself thinking of Ukraine and Ukrainians a lot. No wonder says you and the horrific news coming out of there morning, noon and night. Yes, there's that and there’s me students. You see, over half of my ESOL classes are now made up of Ukrainian women and older men. They come and learn English with me while their children, or grandchildren, attend the local national and secondary schools. They are mad keen students and tell me they like it best when I teach them grammar.
Truth be told, I hate teaching grammar. I’d rather read poetry with me students. I could tell them all about my favourite hometown poet, Paula Meehan. And maybe me students from Odessa could tell me about their hometown poet Anna Akhmatova.
But when a family has been fractured by war – men on battlefields with women, children and the elders seeking temporary protection in far flung countries or enduring the cruel obscenities of war – well even I can see the need for grammar. I get it, the comfort of linguist rules and regulations to make sense out of a senseless world. So, we study grammar.
Last Monday one of my students came in with a library book. The title was 100 Poems to Break your Heart. She stood up, very polite, very formal and said 'Teacher, I would like to read a poem.' Sure, I couldn’t refuse her and would never refuse poetry. She read Anna Akhmatova’s ‘In Memory of M.B.’
I looked around. The class was silent. Ukrainians, non-Ukrainian students and this teacher were held in that place called poetry. Later we studied grammar.
My students write sentences. Future Simple: One day, I'll return home to Ukraine. Future Continuous: when I see my family and friends, I will be crying. Future Perfect: Only God knows who or what will have survived after this war.
Listen to more from Sunday Miscellany here.