Linda couldn't talk to me. She had studied English for about 12 years during her schooldays. She studied grammar and memorized words.
Her friend, a finance manager in an American company, wanted to introduce me to her.
I met them at the Starbucks in the center of Guangzhou, China.
Linda was the finance manager in a state-owned enterprise in the cold food chain logistics industry. Her company was about to form a joint-venture with the international Swire Logistics company based out of Australia. She had a chance to be the Number Two person in this new company but her boss, the Number One, was going to be Australian and spoke no Chinese.
Linda was going to have to be able to talk with him in English but she couldn't talk to me. Instead, her Chinese former schoolmate, a finance manager in an American company, interpreted for us.
"Could she improve her English enough to talk with her boss and take part in meetings in six months?"
As a former IELTS examiner I put her English level around Band 3, perhaps she was about 335 on the TOEFL. She could say a few words, phrases, but couldn't make a sentence. Would I take the job?
It was going to take a lot of work but we got busy, real busy. I started seeing Linda twice a week, two hours each time. We followed a couple Interchange books but rather loosely, mostly following topics of Linda's interests. She enjoyed trying to tell me about the goings on with her boss at her state-owned enterprise. There were always some blowups or crazy antics to report.
Sometimes our lesson was what I call an English Safari, a walk through an Ikea store or one of the biggest supermarkets or malls in town. Sometimes it was playing a board game like Scrabble.
Everyday that we didn't have a lesson I would call her or she would call me and we would chat for 5-15 minutes.
Each time I saw her I gave her some readers and next time I saw her she would report to me what she thought about them and what she learned.
We always had our lessons in cafés and when some foreigners would sit nearby I would strike up a conversation with them and involve Linda in the conversation.
The new words that we encountered would be written down in my computer or mobile phone and I would send them to Linda by Email or SMS later for her review. She was pretty good about writing new words in her notebook but I felt it was also good for her to get them again, later, through another media.
Linda discovered her English was improving steadily until she found herself accidentally blurting things out in English to some of her Chinese colleagues who didn't speak English. She was understanding the Australian colleagues better and better, able to follow meetings and go out to dinner and hit the bars with them.
After six months her English was good enough. Linda got the job. And I lost mine.