Friday, June 11, 2010

Mom Learning English (1)

My mother is making every attempt to learn English, she's studying hard, watching TV, writing down the lyrics of her favorite English songs and memorizing lots and lots of vocabulary so she can communicate with people on her own. She's already using the bus system, learned how to go to stores to purchase whatever our apartment needs, learned to look for items and ask short questions to use for example when she's trying to get the right size of a blouse she likes. In a Grocery store, she's able to have basic communication like asking for "cheese", her version would be something like "cheese?" or if she's in the mood to impress herself, it would be "Excuse me mister, where is cheese?" and to make it fancy, it would be something like "I am looking for cheese today". I love how courageous Mom is in exploring things on her own, the only problem is when those people answer her, the expectations are always holding her hand and taking her to the Aisle where the cheese is, but the frustration comes when they tell her to go to Aisle 8 and it would be somewhere in the middle on the left hand side, even worse, when she's being asked "What kind of cheese, or what is she going to use it for" God damn it, why! how many kinds of cheese (cheeses, like fishes) do you guys have, it's either white or yellow, and what kind of a dumb question is "what for?", of course we're gonna use it for eating. So communication is in progress..... from one end, learning how to listen and understand what is being said to her, well, that's another story.

What Mom is going through, takes me to the year 2000, when I first arrived to the US and started talking to people, I had no problem expressing myself whatsoever, the problem I had was understanding what was being said to me. I could totally relate to Mom's frustration since I went through it myself, and mind you, my background is English Literature, so I really had no excuse, yet I feel her disappointment when she can't get what's being said to her, and when she figures it out, she's a hero (okay fine, she's a heroine).

When I'm around, Mom feels more confident, she tries, but in the back of her head she feels that, worse comes to worse, I'll jump to the rescue. So I hear her one sentence having English, Spanish, French and some Arabic too. It cracks me up, but I keep a straight face and teach her the proper way of what she was trying to express, and sometimes believe me, I myself don't understand the UN phrase she utters, so I can only imagine the reaction of that clerk trying to help her. But at this stage, I don't expect much from mom other than surviving, and guess what! with all those languages in her one simple sentence, adding the sign language and the tone of her voice, somehow... it works. 

My friend Yvonne wanted to come visit her to say hello, I was teaching so I called her and told her that I'm running late, but I wanted her to go ahead and visit with mom. I wanted them to spend a little time on their own. When I came back, and I swear I have tears in my eyes typing this, Yvonne (who does not speak Arabic) told me that Mom said to her that she's grateful for all the help she's extended when my dad was in his final battle with Cancer, for sending the medicine, the books, and most of all, for being there for her son. I got emotional when Yvonne related that message to me. She even went ahead and told Yvonne who loves Potatoes the most, that she's cooking lunch for us, and it has Potatoes. I don't know what kind of language they used, I don't care to know, I'm happy that mom expressed herself and got her message across.

I hear a lot of funny phrases from Mom, yesterday as we were playing cards, she said "You and I just" wanting to say "just the two of us" she is still trying to learn "That's it" and boy, if you only hear how that comes out. The other day I was teaching Arabic to two girls at my place, mom was sitting around reading, I asked them to talk to her in Arabic using what I taught them, then I asked her to correct their mistakes,  but to communicate with them in English. Then we switched roles, her sentence to them was "I want my son buy home, no more invoice" and they understood that she was trying to say "I want my son to buy a house, and have less bills". It was fun going back and forth and listening to the approach of people learning a second language and putting their culture in it. Little does mom know that when I buy a house, the bills are going to flow just as much (if not more).

In banking Mom is still struggling using her debit card, and I totally excuse her for that. Being scared initially of putting the card all the way to the end when she slides it, is something she already overcame, but it's those endless options the machine displays at point of sales, is her fear. She imagines that if she makes a mistake the machine is going to explode, or the bank account will vanish. Sometimes it asks her if it's debit or credit, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it asks her to enter her PIN, sometimes to sign, other times it offers cash back, and then asks for a confirmation if the amount is correct. This is all confusing to her, mainly because they did not invent a machine that works the same way in all stores. And mom being so disciplined, she's going to invent that machine one day to make it easy on immigrants her age.

Mom came back home yesterday from Sears, she was very happy. She bought some clothes, tried them on, switched the size to fit. Got a good deal going. When she came home she told me that she went to the female cashier because she was embarrassed to deal with the male cashier (go figure). She said that the woman talked with her a few minutes telling her about some paper, mom nodded her head, paid for the items and left the store not understanding a single word that woman said to her. But buying those items on her own made up for what she didn't understand. In her eyes, mission accomplished, why bother with the little things. Looking at the bigger picture, I agree with Mom. Things will take time, it's a process, learning a different language, adapting to a different culture, being courageous and putting herself out there is all that matters. I'm proud of her, she's definitely a go getter. You Go Girl...