Friday, 17 April 2015

English lesson anyone?

I went to see Middle-Cat yesterday - currently in a rehabilitation unit waiting for the next lot of surgery. The trip to the unit involves two trains each way - plus the pedal to and from the station at each end. Yes, it took me half the day.
On the return journey a man came onto the platform and sat down some distance from me. A little later another man followed with a large dog, a very large dog.
It was rather a nice dog with a wagging tail and an eager expression. Yes, still a pup. It is going to be a very large dog indeed. The owner spoke to me - usual question about where I had acquired my tricycle. The dog also had a doggy sort of conversation. They continued on and the dog tried to do the same with the man who was waiting. 
He was not happy. He froze. 
"It's all right. He won't hurt you,"the owner said and pulled the dog back, made it sit and then went on.
The man who had been sitting stared after them and then stood up.
He came to me, still looking alarmed, and asked, 
"What generation he?"
I was puzzled. His heavily accented English told me he was probably a refugee from somewhere like Iran or Afghanistan. I understood the words but not their meaning. Generation?
He repeated the question more anxiously so I said,
"I don't know what you mean."
"You know word - generation?"
Yes of course I do. I explained what it meant. He frowned. 
The man I had been speaking to had a heavy Scots accent. I wondered if that had been the problem. I explained about nationality. No, that was not right either.
We caught the train and went on talking as I tried to sort his problem out. He told me he came from Afghanistan. He has been trying to learn English for a year now.
And then I realised. His fear of the dog was the problem. He wanted to know whether the owner of the dog was something like a policeman or other official likely to cause him harm. He meant "occupation". 
I explained as gently as I could that the dog walker had come from Scotland and was just being friendly. I explained "generation", "nationality" and "occupation" and, as he tried them out, I got him to use them several times.
He looked much more relaxed and, as I left at the station where I would change trains, he held out his hand and said,
"Thank you. You good help teacher. I learn more."
I'm glad he was able to learn something. I just hope he has managed to learn that not all dog walkers are officials of whom one should be afraid. I hope he knows what "generation" means.


Miriam Drori said...

Language is so important and so hard for many immigrants. I remember once saying, "I'm jittery," when I meant to say, "I'm lazy," because the words are similar in Hebrew. But in your story, I can't see why he would confuse those words.

catdownunder said...

I don't know Miriam - two of them end in "ation" so perhaps he was just confused?

jeanfromcornwall said...

We forget how terrifying dogs can be to some people. We spent Christmas with cousins once, along with our soft gentle German Shepherd, who adored chidren. Also there were a couple who were refugees from a South American dictatorship, and their two year old child. The fear was clear on their faces as their precious little boy cuddled the dog, but at least they learned that not all dogs with sticky-up ears are killers. And that England was a good place to be.