Stickman Readers' Submissions July 25th, 2006

Delightful SE Asian Wife In Europe – Language And Language School 2

By Hans Meier

One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way.

He Clinic Bangkok

Mark Twain about my language

My outbacks are no option: If Nahlee, my SE Asian wife, wants a decent "integration course" soon, she has to use the bigbad capital. Three weeks after her touchdown in Farangland I book her into an language institute, and I work out which of the many avaible commuting ticket options is probably most clever and economical.


We sit in the train to the capital, where I have to teach her about underground trains, final destinations and so on. She has never used a commuting network like this. She has no idea how to use a map. She doesn't know that she first has to look for the train number, then for the final destination of the train, then to decide where to get off. And on the way back, the local train must have the same number, but another final destination!

CBD bangkok

I have chosen a relatively upmarket school. On the telephone they sounded like they really care for their students. They will start a class with only 10 students, which is rare. It is a clean, well-kept house. The middle-aged, distinguished manageresses sweep around in wide, silken "Asian" or colorful "African" dresses (while the students from Asia and Africa wear jeans and T-shirts). The school has a delightful inviting lounge with comfy couches, fresh good dailys and free internet. The classroom is airy with lots of sunlight. Later Nahlee reports that the facilities are usable, too. They have four class hours from Monday to Friday. This month there are two public holidays, so on two weeks they will do five instead of four class hours per day.

I had wanted to atted the very first class hour together with Nahlee, so that I know a little about her teacher and her class-mates. But when I mention that plan to the school manageress, I am rejected: "No way that you join in class. Yes, some Muslim men want that too, five piece high they want to follow their sisters into the classroom. This we don't allow!"

So while Nahlee is in class, I walk around the streets. As hoped before, it is a nice, cosy area. It is full of small boutiques, tiny fruit shops, Asian stores and health stores. She will like to go shopping here! And there are delightful Old World cafés as well – I will like to wait here! The "White Lilies" café becomes my favorite in the next few days.

I wait in front of the classroom door five minutes before she should come out. I hear her teacher talking a very clear, understandable language. That's good. But the lady uses lots and lots of different complicated words – *who* can understand that after only one afternoon?

wonderland clinic

On the way back to the train station, Nahlee says that most participants are not new to the language. "Some already did all the exercises in the book!" They have been in the country for years. Others already started to learn abroad. Only government rules force them to attend a beginners' class. Nahlee is one of only few absolute beginners!

And her teacher is way too ambitious. She says the teacher even gets an angry face if someone can't follow her instructions. One time a dark Brazilian student walked out fuming after he failed to answer the teacher's question. The book they use starts with lots of difficult, long words and with grammatical phrases like "modal verbs" and "imperative" right from the early pages.


At least, her school is in a cosy corner of an otherwise brash, unforgiving capital. Before and after school, Nahlee likes to walk around, checking fruit shops and Asia stores. She becomes a regular customer at the "Vitamine Bar", which is just a tiny fruit shop. The bearded elderly owner dishes up exactly the cauliflowers, apples and peaches she desires from his boards; and he does so with a smile, different from the grim supermarkets elsewhere. The Asia Store is run by a bronze guy with a nationality she despises; nonetheless she acknoledges that his chilis, allium, ginger and Thai basil leave nothing to desire.

On three first three days I accompany her to school to make sure she gets the right local trains and the right train station exits. One time when I wait for her in the school lounge, I watch five Japanese, Chinese and Latino people talking to each other – in my Euro language of course. Their talk is painfully slow, but grammatically precise, and they get the points across. I love the moment.

Nahlee's teacher talks German only. The students among each other converse in English. One evening after class, Nahlee says, "we went shopping". A lady from Russia, a lady from China and two SE-Asian ladies pick a bit of veggies here and walkman batteries there. Talking English, of course. Another nice scene.

Then they discover the "White Lilies" café.

"Oh, that one I like, too", I say to Nahlee. "Did you try the cappuccino there?"

"No, we only looked through the window."

"Why didn't you go inside?"

"I don't know… Maybe we worried like this: Who suggests to go inside must pay for four people…"

"Oh, you are in Central Europe now, everyone can pay for herself."

"No! This is not possible for us!"


According to my research, the following story tells the very first time that my shy inconfident Nahlee talks my language on her own, to unknown people, with her supporting husband far away.

As a backgrounder, here is a secret: Her main reason to learn my language is to understand western cooking books, especially pizza receipes. This weekend she plans to try a receipe for pizza, her favorite European food.

In the supermarket, she starts in English. Unfortunately my fellow countrymen tend to happily talk in English with everybody.

"Where is flour please", she asks a clerk.

"Flowers", the clerk repeats? "We don't have flowers here."

"No, not flowers", corrects Nahlee: "Flour."

A second clerk assists and says "There is a flower shop around the corner, maybe you try there."

Nahlee realizes: She won't get her pizza ingredients by sticking to English. The difference between "flour" and "flowers" is lost on the supermarketeers. She remembers the real word from the cooking book. But she wouldn't find the stuff browsing miles of shelves. So she musters all her courage and speaks "flour" in my language. She doesn't use "Please, where is flour", a text module she learnt in class. She only whispers "flour" in my language, still uncertain if this phoneme cluster makes any sense to these helpful, helpless locals.

But see! Their faces brighten up! "Ah… flour", they say! Two guys high, they guide her to the flour shelf. She even finds type 1050 flour.

According to my research, this is her first successful independant use of my language. Her first successful assisted use of a pizza receipe has been verified on the weekend after that.

Stickman's thoughts:

It is a bit sad that a teacher was so aggressive with a student….that sort of approach is just about the worst you can be as a language teacher.

nana plaza