Sixty Something: Teaching a non-English speaking person

Hello sixty somethings. Today I was supposed to teach my lovely Afghani lady a lesson in English. I am a volunteer tutor and like teaching, but it can be hard when I don’t understand their language. Before I go any further, recently on this site a very smart man pointed out that once a family is sent to this country and live here legally, they are no longer refugees. A refugee is someone who has had to flee their own country because it is no longer safe for them to be there. Once they are in this country they should be safe. They are no longer technically fleeing so they are no longer refugees. However, we seem to give them this tag. Many of us also tend to put all new dwellers to this country in the same category. Each story is different, each person is different, each family is different.

Anyway, today I drove to the other side of town to give S her lesson. I will not tell you her name or where she lives for privacy reasons but believe me, she is not in a great house or neighbourhood and her furniture is not wonderful or plentiful, but she and her family are very grateful. They are a large family and have suffered much. S doesn’t get out much because of her communication skills. Her children all go to school or the like to learn as quickly as they can. They haven’t been given huge handouts from the government like some seem to think. They are nice people.  

I knocked on the door at my usual time and knocked several more times. Finally one of the children opened the door. It seemed her mother was not there. After several attempts, I gathered she was at the doctor’s.  She was expected to be gone at least another hour. I tried to find out why nobody had called and let me know this before I drove here, but the communication gap between us is still too great. They have my number so they can call an interpreter and get them to call me but this hadn’t been done.

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I found I was a little annoyed. I tried to explain to the daughter that I could not come back the next day but would be back the following week. We said our goodbyes and I drove home again, thinking what a waste of time and petrol this had been.

When I got inside my nice warm, tastefully furnished unit, made a coffee and sat in front of the television with a couple of Scotch Fingers to share with my puppy, I realised what I had just done. I had reacted like so many and become annoyed at a beautiful lady who, for seventeen years, had kept her family safe from harm and alive.  A lady who had to take on the job of both parents and protector. A lady who had given everything to keep her children safe until someone got her family out of the system and in to Australia. A lady who, like most of us, love her country. She didn’t have a choice though, she had to leave.

I took a deep breath and berated myself. I lost an hour and a couple of litres of petrol today. Nothing major and nothing life-threatening. What had this family lost? They had only themselves to rely on, only one branch of a family to get them through. They looked upon their meagre belongings and their house with its sparse furnishings as a castle, their castle. They loved each other more than words could explain. I only need to look at them interacting to see that love shining through, and they were grateful. Grateful that they had survived many years of terror, grateful they had a roof over their head, and grateful that Australia had saved them. They want to learn and learn quickly. They don’t want to be a burden on anyone. S just wants her family to be happy and safe.  

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So as I sat with my coffee and biscuits in my nice warm home, I gave myself a stern talking to. S was not well, that is why she was seeing a doctor. They haven’t been here very long so have limited communication skills. I’m willing to bet that they forgot or couldn’t figure out how to contact the interpreter to let me know. I am sure S will be apologetic next week and I am sure she will try harder to learn. Some of my countrymen will say they are lucky that they have been taken in by Australia. Some will say they should be eternally grateful and some will say they are taking our jobs. This is not true. I say I have learned a valuable lesson today. 

I pride myself on not being racist but I need to practise some tolerance. If it is hard for me to teach S, it must be much harder for her to learn and hard for her family to communicate when they need to. But they have taught me that they have enormous courage and show enormous gratitude, so I will try harder, much harder, to not worry if out of miscommunication I lose an hour or a litre of fuel. I am the lucky one – to have the opportunity to help someone less fortunate than myself.

Have you had any similar interactions?
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