This is my new office. Well sort of. I am a Literacy Volunteer through our local library and was recently assigned my first pupil. I was told that she had no English at all. Turns out she does have a tiny bit and that was a very good place to start.
We met today for the first time and we had a blast! I'm trying to stick to practical language, every day words, phrases and sentences that she will be using on a regular basis before branching out into things that are trickier. But the English language being what it is, we found ourselves in deep water almost immediately.
Turn ON the lights. Turn OFF the lights. Easy right?
Now, put the pen ON the table. Take the pen OFF the table. Excuse me, what?
It's really not the same thing. That was a difficult one to explain especially with the language barrier between us. It's kind of conceptual.
At least she has a sense of humour and that helps. The funniest words ever, apparently, are "garbage can". I don't think I will ever be able to say them again without at least smiling at little bit. She learned the names of things that were in the room. Actually some of them she already knew: pen, telephone, clock, door, window and surprisingly, umbrella. But "sunglasses" was a mysterious new word and so was water bottle.
The difference between "In" and "On" was sneaky too. We had to act that one out any number of times before it was apparent. Put the book ON the table not IN the table. But the paper IN the garbage can not ON the garbage can. See? It's small word but a big difference.
And it's something I never really thought about before today. I have always believed that communication is crucial. And yet, the difficulties in properly communicating escaped me. Until now.
Well, that's not exactly true is it? When my boys were very small and just learning language, there were many occasions when they would be very frustrated trying to express something to me but not having the vocabulary to do so. They would try and I would guess (often incorrectly) and we would pantomime and they would cry and sometimes I wanted to cry too.
We won't even talk about all the years of French I took in highschool. I survived the class, but I remember little of it. Unfortunately I never learned to think in another language and that is key. I would have to translate the question into English, mentally formulate my response and then translate that response back into French. Meanwhile everyone else was two paragraphs ahead of me. It wasn't pretty.
I did a little research ahead of this first meeting and learned about her country, her language and its alphabet, the similarities and differences to ours. I know that will come in handy when there is a sound in English that does not exist in her language.
I suspect that the word she enjoyed learning the most today was "sparkly" in reference to the little fake jewels on my sunglasses. Oh yes, she loved "sparkly". Which works out nicely because I like sparkly too.
In the future I'm hoping to do a few field trips, grocery store, pharmacy, police station, school, who knows what all? I think that would be helpful to her. I know if I were in her shoes it would be helpful to me.
An old friend of mine, who was born in another country, once told me that the most important phrases to learn in any language were, "Help", "Where is the bathroom" and 'I do not speak ...whatever the language is". I get that. In fact, I am right this minute making a note to myself to show her where the bathrooms are in the library. I'm embarrassed that I didn't think of it today. And even that can be tricky. Bathroom, restroom, lounge. Sometimes it doesn't say any of those things just doors with the words "women" on one and "men" on the other. Or "dudes' and "chicks" "boy" and girls" or just pictures. Horrors. That is going to be hard to explain. But I will.
I'm having a wonderful time. And she seems to be too. More importantly, she is learning. My hat is off to her. As my old French teacher would attest, it's kind of ironic that the girl who never really learned French is teaching someone else how to speak English. I guess the old adage really is true, Those who can't do, teach.
I teach. That's awesome.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.