Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Hearing Deaf

As I readied myself for tutoring ESL in Highland last week, I had no idea how quickly the class would progress.

I left my two mentees on spelling and came back to irregular verbs and past participles.

How to explain the difference between shook and shaken?

"Well, you have to use a helping verb before the past participle," I said. "I shook versus I was shaken."

But one question leads to another. I had to then explain "helping" verbs, also known as linking verbs.

Anyone remember those: Is, am, was, were, be, being, been? Honestly, I can only recite them because my high school English teacher had us memorize them as if our very futures depended on the knowledge.

"But why? What is the difference?" Jane asked me.

So I tried talking about active and passive voice and brevity.

Nothing. I was frustrated, feeling useless. She was frustrated as well.

"Sometimes, I feel like a deaf person," Jane said. "I can hear people, but I can't understand."

It seemed like the best thing to do was to take a break from grammar. 

Helen, who speaks very well and has been in the country for more than twenty years, said for the first three years of living in the states, she used to run inside her house if she saw her neighbor outside because she was embarrassed that she could not speak.

Jane's experiences remind me of the lack of American hospitality. No welcome wagons here.

"People are too busy to try and understand me," she said, with a shrug.

We go back to the task at hand. She writes in her book, picking up the past participle in writing, but confounded as to its purpose. How do I explain that English is a ridiculous, beautiful language that most native speakers cannot fully understand?

I gave the women my number, encouraging them to call. Especially Jane, who works in housekeeping and has no real way to practice the language she seeks to know.

No calls came over the week, but I am hopeful that tonight will prove to be a more positive experience for all of us.

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