What's the difference between an air passenger and a BE learner?
Having spent a fair amount of time flying this summer, I found myself comparing our two services.
The lead-in times for both are long and wearisome.
In both the seats are hard in economy and soft in business.
And in both the food is all-important.
It is hard to conceive of an environment less conducive to preparing and eating food than an aeroplane.
It is cramped and airless and devoid of the kind of cooking utensils usually found in a decent kitchen.
From a culinary point of view it makes no sense to eat on a plane.
Everybody knows this, of course, and yet, still everybody does it.
The reasons for this may be manyfold but the one that struck me after a number of consecutive flights this summer was food's narrative function.
First, we have the safety drill, then, when the plane is airborne, the steward delivers a prolepsis, followed by the pre-prandial drinks, the meal, the post-prandial refreshments, and the duty-free libation.
Even on a medium-length flight of 4-5 hours, all of this refection amply fills up the flight narrative, making a distracting filling to the beginning and ending of take-off and landing.
And distraction is the key, I think.
In the world of service design, this is called channelling - directing our attention onto a specific focus and away from other distractions.
Cooped up in a little metal tube, 35,000 feet in the air, with your neighbour's elbow in your ear, and the seat in front wedging you deep into a grimy headrest, there is no escape, and to take your mind off it, the crew tell you a story with food.
I suspect there may be something similar to the way in which a learner studies a language.
The main dish used in teaching English is the Grammar McNugget
, a digestible little morsel that takes the learners' minds off the vertiginous affair of mastering a language - a process which, when seen in its entirety, can appear extremely daunting.
Grammar McNuggets are no more cordon bleu than airline food, but then, they don't pretend to be.