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.

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