One of my longer-term students (he shall remain nameless, in case the information is confidential; or in case it was a mistake) was promoted in class today. Promoted, that is, by his company, not by me. He noticed an email with the news when he picked up his phone to check a word in his dictionary.
I dare say he could not concentrate much on his lesson after he found out. A promotion is a big deal. By coincidence I had been chatting to one of his classmates, who is a primary school teacher, about move-up week, which started for my children yesterday. Move-up week is a week spent in the class they will be promoted to next September. For them, it marks a significant and clearly-marked step up the ladder of life. Such steps become less clear, the older you get. You start to pass whole clumps of years without much change.
Students at language schools sometimes get promoted, from one level to the next. But these things take time, and are subjective – like a promotion at work, I suppose. There is such a thing as a plateau of achievement, and the whole notion of ‘level’, while clearly appropriate in some ways, in other ways is simply too complex an object to classify simply.
But a level-change in a spoken foreign language is nevertheless one of those little markers in life. The French talk of a coup de vieille, I believe, or a ‘blow of age’, in an acknowledgement that life is not a linear descent into the grave, but proceeds by fits and starts, plateaus and scarp slopes; someone who has appeared largely unchanged for years will suddenly look older in a matter of months.
This is rather depressing for those of us not aged eight years – not eager to work our way up through school, rise through the ranks, and so on. But the flip side should be a sort of patience with the long projects of life. Because some things just take time – languages, careers, ageing. And once in a while you get a little indication of where you are, and that you’re doing OK. A promotion.