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to think that after 5 years you would learn at least some English??

(93 Posts)
macdoodle Thu 01-Oct-09 11:25:14

Now I am pretty sure that IANBU but am prepared to be told otherwise!
This is NOT a rascist/immigrant thread I am genuinely curious and have been mulling it over for a few days now!

I am doing a children and mothers group counselling thing with DD1, for children from/in domestic abuse situations!
There are 8 of us (mums/grans and children)!
It is intense but very very good and am finding it incredibly helpful as are the other mums (the children have a group seperate to us at the same time covering the same things in different ways)

One of the mums is absolutely lovely, well spoken, participates, talkative, kind, interested in others, her DD is lovely as well!
She has a horrendous story, she fled from an abusive (arranged) marriage in Pakistan, the abuse sounds horrific both mental and physical, and I am sure is just the tip of the iceberg.
She has no family whatsoever here and doesnt seem like a lot of support.

I like her a lot, and DD1 likes her DD and has asked if we could invite them over for tea on day!

She fled Pakistan 5 years ago when her DD was 3, she is now 8 like my DD1.
Her DD speaks immaculate English and obviously goes to a English speaking school, though I know it is in an area with an high ethnic population.

However, the mum speaks no English watsoever, and I mean none, she appears to understand a little but is yet to utter a single English word. She has a translater provided with her (who actually is also lovely). But boy it makes conversations difficuly/awkward/stilted, I never really know how much she understands me, how much to say and then wait for the translator, though she (the translator) is pretty good at telling me to hold on so she can translate!
Its awkward, sometimes I feel like I am having a conversation with the translator, sometimes I feel rude as clearly the 2 of us are empathising!

I just dont understand it, she has been here 5 years, it must make her life so difficult not to speak the language, she sems bright and eloquent, I cant imagine she would find it massively difficult to learn, why wouldnt you??

nickytwotimes Thu 01-Oct-09 11:30:19

Probably to do with women's position within specific cultures: not encouraged to learn, participate, etc. Takes a long time for individuals to break free from that (should they want to). She has probably had enough to contend with in breaking free from the relationship. Integrating, etc is another big step. The help and support of others will help.
Might have been better to post other than AIBU though - adds a tone which I do not think for a minute you mean, iyswim?

marenmj Thu 01-Oct-09 11:31:05

Surely it depends on the home situation and who she is around day-to-day.

Since DH and I are both foreign there is a certain amount that we haven't had to integrate (little things like changing the baby's "diaper" and pushing the "stroller").

If she doesn't have to speak English to do her shopping or with her neighbours than it's possible that she hasn't been forced to learn it to get by.

Imagine how isolating it would be to not understand the language! Poor woman. I hope her daughter can help her pick it up.

beaniesinthebucketagain Thu 01-Oct-09 11:31:52

YANBU in the fact that your finding it difficult when you and your dd clearly want to form a friendship with this family, i can understand your frustration,

but we dont know the full story, there may be hidden reasons as to why she hasnt, But as she understands it id have thought she could speak some iysim, now ive confused myself, this is a tricky one.

independiente Thu 01-Oct-09 11:33:20

5 years does seem a long time not to speak any words at all. Perhaps you could ask (via translator, and kindly) if she finds it hard, and if so, if there's anything you could do to help? Has she said anything about it?

nickytwotimes Thu 01-Oct-09 11:33:55

It's really not unusual at all within certain sub-groups.
Stops women participating in life outside the family/close community.
Probably bound up with the abusive relationship too.
Poor woman. She may well pick it up now she is independent.

StableButDeluded Thu 01-Oct-09 11:34:34

Hmm, yes I would have thought she's have picked up some, or tried to learn. It must make her life difficult.

But maybe the abuse she suffered has knocked her confidence in such a way that she isn't up to doing it yet.Sounds like she's coped amazingly well with such a lot so far, perhaps she doesn't want to 'have' to do anything else at the moment IYSWIM.

marenmj Thu 01-Oct-09 11:36:51

It's easier to understand a spoken language than to have the confidence to speak it yourself iykwim. A lot can be picked up from body language.

Having been immersed in it, I can understand Spanish when it is spoken to me but haven't a hope of speaking it. I don't have the vocabulary or formal training to make the sentences and when I am listening I miss a lot of nuance. If I was trying to impress someone I would definitely not want to speak for fear of saying something terribly inappropriate.

I suspect the woman understands a few key words and some body language, but doesn't know enough to actually try to speak English.

GrendelsMum Thu 01-Oct-09 11:37:15

When I saw your title, I was going to say that my great-grandmother never learnt English despite living here for about 40 or 50 years - she lived in a community where the neighbours were all of her nationality, she could shop with shopkeepers who spoke her language, and so on. If she needed interpretation, her husband or children or grandchildren could do it for her. So she never really needed to learn English. But it seems that your lady is in a different situation, and English would be really useful.

If the lady's had such a tough time in Pakistan, has she had much formal education in the past? Perhaps she hasn't been in a classroom situation, or not a positive one, and feels very nervous about going to a college? A friend of mine runs special ladies' English classes for various different nationalities - but if there isn't something like that locally, she might be quite intimidated about going to classes? Maybe it's something daft, like she was told 6 years ago she couldn't attend a certain sort of class, and hasn't checked again.

Maybe you could ask her about it? It doesn't sound as though she'd be offended - you could just say that you'd like to be able to talk to her directly, and you wondered why she didn't learn English?

GrendelsMum Thu 01-Oct-09 11:39:21

Could you try learning and speaking a bit of Pakistani to her? To get you all laughing and to encourage her to try speaking English? Because I agree, she probably has picked up a little, but doesn't want to speak it. A lot of language learning is about being prepared to get it wrong and have people laugh at you, and that is hard.

Bucharest Thu 01-Oct-09 11:41:12

This was something we used to find time and again when I worked at the Home Office..the husbands would speak English and sometimes, unfortunately, would prefer for their wives not to...heaven forbid they should be able to integrate into the community....I worked in the nationality office and whilst there was an English language requirement for the first person in a married couple to apply for citizenship, there was no such requirement once that person (who was invariably the man) for the spouse, so the HO was actually perpetuating this non-integration.

Not just Asian families either. My cousin's Italian in-laws lived in England for over 40 yrs and neither spoke very much English at all.

wannaBe Thu 01-Oct-09 11:43:07

who is paying for the translator?

Surely the money would be better spent paying for english lessons?

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that someone wanting to live in this country (for whatever reason) should take steps to learn the language.

how can you become an integrated member of society if you don't?

Having said that, some adults do find it harder to learn another language than children do.

There are two children in my ds' class whose first language I know is not english. In both cases the parents have made an immense effort to ensure their children speak english, to the extent that they speak english to their children when in english company iyswim. But in the one case the mother really struggles with her own english, even though she tries, and you would never know her ds wasn't english speaking if you didn't know iyswim.

freename Thu 01-Oct-09 11:44:38

What you have to remember is that in some cultures women are not allowed to be educated or independent. If she has been through an horrific time she will be coming to terms with that. Speaking to another person about it never mind in another language could still be a very daunting prospect for her. In your conversations are you asking lots of questions about her past? She may also be feeling embarrassed about the failure of her marriage (however much it was forced on her) as in these cultures there is a lot of pressure with regards to honour and shame. She won't be programmed to complain about her ex's treatment of her she might be thinking 'this is very shameful - I have shamed my family' etc.
If you empathise with this woman be her friend at her own pace without dwelling on the details of what happened to her. If she is participating otherwise then let her continue in her own way.

sequinedsteaknife Thu 01-Oct-09 11:47:29

From your description it sounds as if she understands English but isn't confident enough to speak or chooses not to in your sessions. Perhaps she finds having a translator for such a personal discussion is easier for her to understand what is going on and to express herself accurately.

Also if she isn't working then she probaly only has limited contact and interactions compared to her DCs who are immersed in an English speaking school 5 days a week.

macdoodle Thu 01-Oct-09 11:48:10

Ok so if I did invite her and her DD for tea, how on earth would we communicate???

I assume the translator is paid for by NSPCC/Womens Aid/maybe the council...and so wouldnt be able to come for tea grin though I would be happy to invite her as well on a friendly basis, though it all seems a bit awkward!

I hate to tell DD no just because I cant talk to mum but it would be an interesting afternoon...

Maybe in a week or 2 when we are a bit more comfortable I will ask, offer to help...would it be taken the wrong way??

MrsBadger Thu 01-Oct-09 11:48:27

maybe she does speak a little English, enough to get by in everyday life, in shops and buses etc (am thinking of my level of French, for example), but in a group like this where you are talking about some pretty complex issues she doesn't feel confident using it. If she is as intelligent and as eloquent as your posts suggest maybe she prefers to express her ideas in her own language and have them translated rather than worry about fumbling for vocab or appearing stupid.

Or it may be that something is hampering her learning English - maybe she was denied education and can't read or write her own language...

Geocentric Thu 01-Oct-09 11:48:52

I think its a generation thing...

I live in Brazil and there are many older people here who immigrated with their families a long time ago, and while their children and grandchildren were born here and speak fluent Portuguese but they still don't after all that time. And this applies to several cultures, the Japanese especially, but also many Europeans (English, Germans, etc).

For example, DHs grandmother (English) moved here over 50 years ago, and when she passed away she could still only speak a smattering of Portuguese. Spent her entire life within the "safety" of the British Community, no need to speak the local language!!! Unthinkable for a younger person.

MrsBadger Thu 01-Oct-09 11:49:34

cross-posted with loads of people, sorry

Toffeepopple Thu 01-Oct-09 11:50:02

A close member of my family lived in another European country for ten years and never learned the language. He could get by in English and has no natural capacity for languages so just never made the effort. And that is without all the other elements in this woman's story.

I've also seen lots of articles saying that it can, in fact, be difficult to access ESL courses in some areas.

macdoodle Thu 01-Oct-09 11:50:24

The group is incredibly intense/emotional, yes I do understand her struggling to speak her own language not just English...but my question was more how over the last 5 years she has managed...and not wanted to try and learn??

mrsruffallo Thu 01-Oct-09 11:52:43

I am a great believer in leanrning the language of the country you are living in, it's just polite.
Why don't you ask her if she wants to learn and suggest some courses?
She may find it helpful, and of course it would enhance her quality of life here enormously

Geocentric Thu 01-Oct-09 11:53:16

Oops, sorry, just re-read OP blush. I thought it was the mum's mother. blush again and forget my comment on generation...

mrsruffallo Thu 01-Oct-09 11:54:02

You don't need to go to lessons to learn the basics, you can get a book and try your language out on people such as macdoodle.

macdoodle Thu 01-Oct-09 11:56:00

I'm thinking I'll ask them for tea in a few weeks, without the translator!
We'll manage I guess the children can help, maybe she will feel more comfortable to try some English just with me in a home setting!

Thanks all, I guess AIBU probably wasnt best just where I spend most of my MN time grin

MrsBadger Thu 01-Oct-09 11:56:21

but when you think abotu it, with life as it is in the UK you don;t need to know
if you are in an area with a high ethnic population whose language you do speak, you can communicate easily, and if further afield you never ever have to (eg) go into a shop and ask a person to serve you - you just collect a trolley of food items you recognise and proffer cash silently at the checkout. Vital council info eg school admissions info come in multiple languages.

I think the only place where you'd need to speak more than a modicum of English would be in a pub...

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