Like breathing, we take our language skills in our own language for granted.
It’s snowing and we’re in Vienna (I think). I’ve managed to get us to the railway station by a combination of mime “chuff, chuff with appropriate arm actions” and “marche aux gare with my fingers frantically doing the walking”. Then we both want a pastry; I smile at the motherly assistant, hold up two fingers of one hand and point to a tray “drei” says I in my schoolgirl German. She shakes her head and says “zwei”. What, no pastry? No she’s telling me I’m asking for three not two. We all laugh. She sorts our money. We eat and finally get to where we’re supposed to be. Yes we know everyone everywhere speaks English but “ich bin eine Berliner” Kennedy like we’ve discovered something the Royal family has always known – people appreciate attempts to communicate in their own language.
Conversely I’ve been excruciatingly embarrassed in workplace settings where New Zealanders have leaned into the faces of young overseas worker-visitors and increased the volume of their instruction; as if!
Perhaps my best personal language lesson was participating the ceremonies preceding a family wedding. Having never learned Gujarati or Hindi I was the only person with absolutely no language for the day. I learned that while a great deal of communication is non-verbal, I also learned how bewildering it must be for the non-English-speaking in a predominantly English speaking country.
Professionally I also learned the danger to English as a second language community members of speaking to authorities without the benefit of an interpreter. Our colloquialisms and inherent understanding of the meaning of language in our community may not be the more literal understanding of the second language speaker. “I did not have that conversation” when unravelled didn’t mean to the second language speaker , “I did not speak with him” but rather “when I spoke to him, I did not say those words he is saying that I said.”
And, if you think idiom and colloquialism affects only English as a second language speakers; my educated English, English mother when first living in New Zealand was invited to “bring a plate.” Yes, you’ve heard it all before, she showed up with a box full of our crockery and cutlery thinking that’s what the function organisers needed. She could laugh about this and it cost her nothing other than personal embarrassment in an isolated, rural New Zealand community sixty years ago. That doesn’t always happen as any lawyer who has tried to get a rehearing in a Tribunal knows.
So in the heat of the 2015 Multi Cultural Festival at the Historic Village I’m delighted to see a talented musician promoting “his other occupation” – he’s an English language teacher. I take one of his flyers: The Bay of Plenty Polytechnic holds free English Lessons: “….Free English lessons will help you get ready to study your programme of choice. The course covers skills including reading, speaking, writing, listening and includes field trips in the local area to practice English in everyday life”
WHERE: Windermere Campus Tauranga
WHEN: 9.00am – 2.30pm Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
START DATE: 13 July 2015 and February 2016
COURSE LENGTH: 17 weeks
COST: FREE! (For permanent residents and citizens)
Allow approximately $50. for text books.
New Zealand Certificate in English Language Level 2, 3 & 4
Of course the fishhook is you have to be a citizen or permanent resident and this course is designed as a pathway to academic study. Coming from Auckland and South Auckland I know how important courses like this one are (and the others offered through other organisations). Language is fundamental to inclusion. If you know anyone you think may be interested in this course make sure you tell them.
Visit the Information Centres at the Windermere Campus, Windermere or Bongard Centre (Cameron Road, Downtown Tauranga) or go to www.boppoly.ac.nz
Rosemary is a regular contributor to ARTbop and is the founding and current editor of ARTbop.