October 13, 2011

Have/Don't have

Eventually the adults in my ESL class form two lines, facing one another. I like to start with conversation, and away from desks. The further people are from paper and pens, the more they tend to focus on each other.

"Does everyone have a partner? ... Heidi, do you have a partner?"

Heidi--this is her English name--smiles, adorably, and kind of pokes into one of the lines.

"Mei you," she jokingly complains.

"Mei you?" I joke back. "Here, here, Senem is your partner."

Half the students in the class speak Mandarin, and they laugh. Even the others--the Turkish women, the Kurdish man, and the women from Iraq and Afghanistan--laugh. Mei you means "don't have." You means "have." The grammar and the pronunciation for these are easy, right? It's strange, I think, that I don't know more Mandarin. Or any Cantonese. So many people speak these languages in Vancouver. It would be nice to be able to make more jokes, to get more laughs.

October 6, 2011

Native speakers, eh?

Mariusz came from Poland to Canada five years ago. He ties rebar. At his new job site, there are Mexicans, a Russian, and a Serb. Mariusz is happy, because now he can understand what people are saying in English. At his last job site, he worked only with Anglo Canadians. They spoke so fast and shortened words so much that he was lost. And these people were working; they were too busy to slow down and help. Now, with the other non-native English speakers, he can actually participate in English.

October 4, 2011



"But which one is the best?" Fahad demands, between plaintive and playful. "When I go into the coffee shop, which one should I say to the man?"

I consider.

"It really depends."

"But here, in Canada."

"I know! It depends. On me--how I feel; on the other person--Do they speak English as a first language? Are they stressed? Relaxed? Is there a connection?"

Fahad isn't impressed.

"Ok. If you say 'Hey,' then you let the person know that you speak English pretty well. Because Level 1 kids only say 'Hello'--they see it in the textbook and their teacher greets them with it, even though no one says 'Hello.'"

Now I have his attention.

"From a native speaker, 'Hello, how are you?' is basically another way to say, 'You obviously don't speak English as a first language.' 'Hi' is better. 'Hey' is probably best, unless you don't like the person."

More attention still.

"Because it's so short. The longer the greeting, the more you like the person. 'Heyyyyyyyyyy' means 'I'm your friend. I'm really, truly happy to see you.' If you hate the person, 'Hi' [clipped, short, a blow dart]."

Fahad and I practice our super-long 'Heyyyyyyyyyyyys.'

Because friends don't let friends say 'Hi.'