Sixty Something: Teaching a non-English speaking person 8

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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.

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.  

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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Fran Spears

Born in 1953. Came to Hobart from the north west coast of Tassie to be closer to my son as I have mild chronic bronchitis. Mild and chronic in same sentence – even that makes me laugh. Have just completed and passed my diploma in Public Relations. Love to write and have lead a reasonably interesting life. My motto: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!"

  1. Thanks for sharing this lovely story, Fran. We all need to take a good dose of perspective and open our hearts to these people and many others suffering so much just because they were born in the wrong country at the wrong time.
    Also love your motto – a la Rhett Butler!!

  2. I get paid £96 every hour from online jobs. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my friend Pamela Peavey is earning £11k /monthly by doing this job and she showed me how…IA..

    Find out more HERE—- JobsGap1.Com

  3. I found some refugees had no sense of time, or responsibility – two more things to work on in lessons. Time after time I would arrive for a lesson with a Sudanese, only to find the was out – it was a nice day – a swim in the river was the thing – shopping another time – it was frustrating. Nothing that would not have waited, just a spur of the moment outing that was at lesson time – then I found she couldn’t read a clock or calendar.

  4. I was home tutor for over ten years, and it was one very rewarding time for me! Recommend to everyone who has little bit of time on their hands to volunteer! I met families from many different cultures, eat some exotic foods and been loved and thanked for my efforts by all!

    2 REPLY
    • I was home tutor for a Chilean woman in the 1980s. Experiencing morning sickness (first pregnancy), she was unable to attend classes. She learnt English so fast! She had 2 lovely sons, who are now grown up, each with a daughter of his own. D still works in the regional library system, where she’s considered a great asset. So proud of her! Her husband, also a hard worker, has never been unemployed. We’re still close friends, after all these years.

    • I was home tutor for a Chilean woman in the 1980s. Experiencing morning sickness (first pregnancy), she was unable to attend classes. She learnt English so fast! She had 2 lovely sons, who are now grown up, each with a daughter of his own. D still works in the regional library system, where she’s considered a great asset. So proud of her! Her husband, also a hard worker, has never been unemployed. We’re still close friends, after all these years.

  5. Yeah, well, that’s one of the problems, with these people.
    They’ve no sense of current responsibility.

    I wouldn’t do that job for quids’, as it would be just SO frustrating, to arrive for teaching lesson, but student’s decided to go ‘walkabout’.

    They don’t understand, literally, that coming here will be a HUGE culture shock, & learning curve, if they want to ‘integrate’ with OUR society, which they’re required to do.

  6. I don’t like Maureen’s comment, I’d like to see how she’d cope if Australia was invaded and she became a refugee in a country where people don’t speak English and have different customs so she would not know what was expected of her. i live in France and I have had to adapt my life to fit in with the French way of doing things, fortunately i was not a refugee and I was able to earn a living, nevertheless some people presumed I didn’t pay taxes like they have to and were hostile towards me because, you see, many French people still consider the English are enemies of France dating back to the Hundred Years war, they forget their country was liberated by Britain and her allies in two recent world wars, they don’t realise that thanks to us they can still use their French language for official documents etc. not having to communicate officially in German. But those sort of racist French people are few and far between, thank goodness, I say that but realise that recently many have become anti-immigrant and anti-migrant workers and the same goes for the many people in England who voted Brexit for racist reasons. I am sorry to see that there are people in Australia who think the same way, but the same goes in the USA. The world is in a sorry state these days.

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