Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sometimes opportunity uses a battering ram

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I live in the Florida panhandle. If you saw the news last week, you may have seen that we had some severe weather here last Tuesday. Tornadoes, flooding, severe thunderstorm damage. It caught us all by surprise -- hurricanes, sure, but tornadoes? Pfft. Riiight.

Anyway, on Saturday, we got a flyer in the mailbox. One of the local new car dealerships was offering free flood damage inspections. That was pretty nice (because flood damage can really wreck the resale value of a car), but not unexpected (because they can sell you on having them do the repairs). What was, to me, an unexpected extra was their offer, with no other conditions, to store your car on their property for up to a week, while you wait for your insurance to get sorted out. Not "if we do the repairs," just "we'll store your car." As in, "Your driveway's still flooded? Bring your car here, we'll keep it safe for you." I don't know, it's probably not such a big deal, but to me, it said two things. One, that dealer knows the value of going a little bit beyond expectations. Two, that dealer saw an opportunity, and wasted no time striking while the iron was hot.

That second item spoke to me. Just recently, during our transition assistance class, we were talking about what we wanted to do after we got out of the military. I mentioned that I'd like to try writing, or technical writing, but given my language skills, I'd really like to try language teaching -- and not necessarily how you might think. I said I'd like to be able to help ESL speakers overcome accent difficulties. I remember how hard my language teachers worked to get us to speak their languages with as "native" an accent as possible. I also remember how hard it was for many of them, when speaking English, to make themselves clear, even when their grammar and vocabulary were correct. The funny thing was, as I was saying this, it was actually the first time I had ever considered it. It sort of popped into my head as a thought, and it really appealed to me.

What happened next, though, must have been fate. The next presenter, who had been observing from the back of the room, came up to give her presentation. She opened her mouth, looked at me, and began to speak, in grammatically correct colloquial English -- with a very thick Peruvian (she said) accent.

I had never met her before, never heard her speak. I was in shock, and a little embarrassed. I was sure that she would think I had been directing my earlier comments at her. In fact, had I realized she was there, I probably wouldn't have said what I said. And when, after the class, she came up to talk to me, I was worried that she had taken offense. Instead, she asked me if teaching accent reduction was really something I wanted to do -- because if it was, she wanted my help.

Opportunity knocking? You bet. We arranged to meet to discuss what she wanted to achieve, and I made sure to tell her that this was something that I was NOT trained in, and had NOT developed any plan or coursework. She said she understood that I was still "in transition," but she was willing to wait. Even if it took as long as several months for me to figure out how, or if, I would be able to help her, she wanted me to have the opportunity.

I did some research, found some online training, and as of today, I am a certified "Pronunciation of English as a Second Language" Accent Reduction instructor. I still don't know if I'm a GOOD certified PESL instructor, but I now know how to go about it. I have materials, a syllabus, and a plan. I'm going to take some time, talk to my potential client, and let her know that she's going to be my guinea pig. She's going to get a course at a very reduced price, I'm going to get practice teaching, and if, at the end, she likes the difference, it's a win/win.

Fortunately, this is something that is a sort of "spare time" opportunity. In the meanwhile, I keep my job search going, resumes and cover letters continue to go out. If it turns out this really isn't for me, well, I got some good information from the training. And if it is, it just might become a nice little sideline.

This transition thing is a long and winding road, that's for sure, and you really do need to be focused on where you want to be. But you have to be ready to seize an opportunity when you see it -- you might not get another chance.

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