with one of our neighbours yesterday. This was our immediate neighbour. She is Chinese and has lived here for about eight years now. She spoke no English when she first came. She still speaks almost none.
Her husband speaks excellent English. He is an interpreter and does a lot of work in hospitals and the courts. He has been here a lot longer than his wife. It's rather an odd situation.
Yesterday I saw her in the supermarket. I am not usually there then but the Senior Cat had needed something. There she was ahead of me.
She saw me and her expression went from anxious to relieved and she smiled. She obviously does not like to go shopping alone. I cannot remember seeing her there alone before except on one occasion several years ago. She was in the chemist then and I had to help. Her limited understanding of English must make it very stressful in the supermarket. She can't read labels and limits herself to the obvious. She often doesn't understand what is said to her and she can't make herself understood.
I know the woman at the checkout we were both using. She is an older woman who has been there for many years - the sort of woman many would call "a rough diamond". She is also very kind to the elderly and anyone else she thinks is in need. I told her,
"H... is my neighbour."
She smiled at H... and said the usual things but said them more slowly. She had heard me talking to H....
After H.... had gone she asked me, "How long has she been here? She doesn't speak much English."
I told her it was about eight years. She scanned the item I was buying and then asked,
"She seems really nice. Doesn't her husband want her to learn English?"
It was an interesting observation. The Senior Cat and I have discussed this on more than one occasion. We have both offered English lessons. We have tried to engage her in conversation with the deliberate aim of improving her English.
The English lessons have always been rejected by her husband with the excuse that she is already going to classes. She is rarely seen outside the house and even more rarely will say hello to us. If her husband hears her doing this he will immediately join her on the excuse she does not understand.
This woman once taught Classical Chinese Literature in a secondary school in her home country. She is an intelligent woman and, after eight years, her English should be better than it is. I think the English classes stopped long ago - if they ever took place at all.
And I think the checkout woman in the supermarket suspected what the Senior Cat and I also suspect. Her husband does not want her to learn English.