If you are reading this with any degree of understanding then you must have a good standard of English already. What? You don’t believe me? Then perhaps what you need is a little more confidence – yes you will make mistakes, but don’t we all? I have a friend who met her husband to be when he visited her home in Peru. He speaks Spanish only in its most elementary form (the kind that requires you have a guidebook in one hand), and at that time she spoke not one word of English. Nevertheless they fell in love. Once his time was up and he had to return to England, she followed him two weeks later and today, perhaps three months later, we received the invitation to their wedding.
They communicate very well – although at first it was slow. When I first greeted her I had to speak very slowly and then repeat my words in Spanish, and her fiancé did the same when addressing her. He was always at her side, translating as best he could, but now she speaks good English, with a slight Yorkshire accent no less. How has that happened? Well she is obviously a very intelligent woman, but that is only part of the picture. At first he helped her by translating, but then he stopped and spoke to her only in English and that was hard for both of them. The fact is, she is exposed – all day, every day, to English. The pair speak English at home, at church, on the bus, in the shops. I know of no one here, a tiny corner of Yorkshire, who speaks more than holiday Spanish of the ‘ Una cervaza, por favor’ variety, so she has no choice. And she has come on in leaps and bounds. Today we discussed wedding dresses, registrars and all the complexities of planning a wedding.
If she was on holiday she would probably have managed with a lot fewer words, but because her fiancé works all day Monday to Friday , it is the Peruvian lady who has borne the brunt of dealing with hiring a venue, buying a dress, making appointments with the registrar and minister. They will be living round the corner from the church and having their reception in the hall opposite – so cars aren’t involved, but that still leaves a lot of other things to be done – and she is doing it – all in English. She is having to trust her own judgment, after all her family and close friends are thousands of miles away. At first she didn’t even know her way around the city, but instead of hiding herself away, this amazing lady has overcome all these difficulties.
She reminds me very much of a work colleague I knew back in the late 1970’s. Melina was Greek and had come to work as a nursing auxilllary. I don’t know how she got the job, as she had absolutely no English, although she could make both beds and tea. There was only one other Greek speaker in the hospital and she worked nights.
At break that first day she ate one mouthful of her lunch and then she pulled out a language book, looked about rather hesitantly and then blurted out ‘Can you pass the salt please’. She was off. Within about 6 weeks she was laughing at jokes, being quite cheeky really, and taking every opportunity to increase her knowledge – she read the news papers, but also patient’s notes, any notices on display and watched every soap opera going. Eventually, some four years later, Melina qualified as a nurse in her own right – because she was willing to step out and place her trust in her own abilities – no false modesty for her.
So the next time you are in an English class and hesitate to speak out – take courage , trust in your own abilities and speak out with confidence.