Tag Archives: english language improvize gesticulate

You speak English?


Yesterday my two youngest were invited to visit two siblings that are friends of theirs from kindergarten. A twoyearold girl and her fiveyearold brother. And I came with them. SInce it was the first time, and my son isn´t used to visiting alone a lot yet.

It´s always nice to see someone´s home, it shows one of their skins. (As Hundertwasser calls it, see my post called Clothes for more info).
I also invited them back to ours in the weekend. They are lovely people whome I really would like to get to know. They come from Burma. I think the parents are in their twenties, maybe early thirties. They have been here quite a while, but they don´t speak much Danish, although they both go to school to learn the language. It´s just not that easy. First, Danish is actually a very hard language to learn. Second, there are many people in the class, she told me, and from many different countries. So it´s difficult for the teacher to reach each one on their level.
Third, they sail from the island 07.30 in the morning, sit at school for 5 hours, then sail home, pick up kids and groceries, cook, eat and sleep. They don´t get a lot of Danish language practice in a tight schedule like that, do they?

I have met them many times before, on the ferry and in the kindergarten, so I knew there was a language barrier. But I find that fascinating, not annoying or scary. How can we understand eachother when we lack words? It can easily become quite funny, in my experience.

It took me an hour or so to realize how much they did and did not understand. Then, at one point, I stopped thinking about words and started using my feelings instead.
What do I mean?

Well…when I lived in bigger towns in Norway, I used to know a lot of asylum seekers, refugees and foreign students. And I used to be good at a type of simplified English, that I guess maybe I learnt from the foreigners, or rather, we developed between us in the gap of missing words…
I used the simplified English when I lived in Bahrain as well. My then English boyfriend would tell the taxidriver where we wanted to go, and the driver would say “What? Where you want?” and then I wouild take over.

The clue is simply: Simplify!
What is the essence of what you want to be understood?
Cut down to nouns and verbs. Then add gesticulations.

For example “Elite residences numder 2. Al Jazeera avenue.” Then I also had learnt the Arabic words for left and right. And if I wanted to continue straight ahead for a while, I said “straight, straight”, whilst pointing forwards with my entire arm 3-4 times, so he knew it was quite a distance… So much can be said through tone of voice and body language.
If the driver dodn´t know the address, I named Pearl Roundabout, or an other landmark on the way to our appartment. (In the beginning, before we knew the way home, it took some time for the driver to discuss with other drivers where this Elite Recidences was. Interesting to sit back and wait, watch them discuss in Arabic. Never be in a rush! Hahaha…)

An example from yesterday (only in Danish words) is
“What time (pointing to watch)… kindergarten… (That´s a word they would know from everyday use)…you pick up kids? (pointing at her kids, then showing with my arm a gesture that could mean to bring back home)…

Not that I think this is hocus pocus or difficult artform in any way. The reason I choose to write about it, is because I so often see people that are afraid of speaking English when they meet a foreigner, because they feel they don´t master the language. This is because we have been given grades in school, and told we are not very good in English.

But communicating isn´t about grades or mastering perfect grammar. It is about making oneself understood. And understanding the other, being willing to listen and to guess, and to admit over and over, in the end with a smile, that “I`m sorry, I just don´t get what you mean!” Or maybe rather; “Me no understand, no…” with a troubled headshaking.

Success, in communication, is yours as soon as you dare to try! It is a lot of fun to improvize languages you don´t master. No one should go a lifetime without experience the joy of that. The laughing together about the hopelessness, and the enthusiasm, and the great relief when understanding is finally achieved, through great common effort…

I wrote a song about it once, and made a music video for it.
Here it is:

Mother Toungue

If you can communicate
in a different tongue than your mother´s:
Be proud! Feel proud!
No matter what mistakes you make.

´Coz it´s about communicating, getting together and celebrating this mystery called life, and none of us do remember why; Why are we here, and should we care about the reason for the changes of season…?

(Yes I wrote the text, did the filming and editing, and it is me singing. The visuals are from Hastings, UK, from a beautiful museum there, and from the home of my dear Servas friends Alan and Fiona Wright, he is a very talented stained glass artist).

It is fun to communicate. There is nothing to be embarressed about. That´s why, when our Servas guest from Taiwain a couple of weeks ago, went to my daughter´s class and held a lecture about Taiwan and travelling for them… One of the best things about it, was that her English was far from perfect. She added a German word here and there that she knew, and she laughed a lot, and the kids were all eager to help her explain what she meant, so they were all ears, guessing for words, and talking English back to her, forgetting their normal shyness about speaking English.
(Read my two posts about Servas for more info about when lovely Yi Ping visited us on Fanoe).

English is a wonderful language. So many nuances, so lovely sounding in its melody and rhythm.
It is also grammarwise a simple language, and the one that people use to reach out internationally to eachother.

Just simplify English, add body language and eye contact and a sense of humour, and you´ve got yourself a real interesting and fun time talking to people from anywhere.
I love it.

I hope the Burmese family can come Saturday. And if they can´t, then we will find an other time. There is so much to learn from having friends from other countries. I look forward to getting to know all four individuals in their family, and to experience how the Danish language becomes easier and easier for us to use in our communication, as they get to practice using it, not just sitting still listening and writing things down in a notebook.

Language is first and foremost a practical tool between human beings, not a fancy theory
to master to perfection on paper.

This is funny. Seven minutes long, but pretty funny minutes.
I think you will enjoy them. 🙂