Readers' Submissions

Delightful SE Asian Wife In Europe – Language And Language School 6

  • Written by Anonymous
  • August 4th, 2006
  • 7 min read

By Hans Meier

Their books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head — so as to reverse the construction — but I think that to learn to read and understand their newspapers is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.

Mark Twain about my language

"Why I have to go to school every day", Nahlee moans. "I learn nothing there! Nothing! I only learn from you after school!"

I remain silent.

"I know, you are not happy if I don't go. Ok, I go to make my husband happy. Example I alone, I WILL NOT GO!"

Takes her bag, out the door.


The morale is astonishingly lax in her class. She says students come and go during course hours. Some people appear for two days, then aren't seen for the rest of the week. In class, some receive mobile phone calls and walk out, talking to the phone. The teacher tries to stop this behaviour, but with no success.

Only in the last week, I tell her I don't care if she goes or not. Her face brightens up.

Now we have booked her into the new easier school, we already have the new books for her, and maybe she really shouldn't be exposed to a frenzied teacher's grammar blast any longer.

"Oh", I say – "but I want you to take part in the final test." Her face darkens again.

We both know she will not pass the test. I don't expect her to pass the test anyway, but still she'd like to avoid the humiliation. But I want to get the paper that she went to this test. Who knows what my xenophobic government demands from us when she finally applies for a passport here. She tries to stay home on the day the test is written, but I make her go. She comes home, moaning she didn't understand one exercise and didn't have time for another one. She finally gets 56 percent, which would not be enough to advance to the next 100-hours-block. The school tries to entice her to repeat the first block, but she smiles the offers off. Nobody in class talks about the results. On the phone her mother asks: "WHY did you get 56 percent only? Husband angry now?"

The 450 USD for this school plus the 150 USD for the monthly train ticket have been a waste. And I lost heaps of time, because I had been forced to be après-teacher for several hours every day. Not to mention that three times I traveled with her to the big, bad capital to make sure she gets the right connections and exits – losing a lot more time and money.

For the very last day, her teacher suggests everybody brings good food from their country.

"You like to go", I ask her?

"Yes, I go", she says – "but only to say goodbye".

And so she does. She takes the long train ride into the big, bad capital only to say goodbye to the teacher and her classmates. She says only four students came to the last afternoon and had brought too much food. The teacheress mentions that she could be booked for private conversation classes at the students' homes for 30 USD per hour. She also writes down Nahlee's e-mail address, "we all could go to the movies maybe". Then Nahlee leaves the four students and her teacher alone – "bye bye and good luck". She strolls one last time through the pleasant street around her school, buys strawberries and apples at her fruit shop, fresh ravioli at the Italian delicatessen and spring roll wrappings at the Asia store. Then, with a big sigh of relief, Nahlee boards the train back home. No more grammar blasts in this life, she hopes.


"Hello everybody", greets Nahlee with a friendly smile, as she enters the room of her new class, the one with the slow progression. This draws two bored irritated looks, no more. Here it seems not usual to say hello. This is a huge and cheap school with many buildings, and here she is not as "special" and "valued" as in the other school or as in my village. A new experience. People who don't care which school to attend end up in this school, too.

She wants to sit down next to a veiled Muslim lady. But her prospective neighbor motions her away silently – the chair is reserved for someone else. Finally she gets a chair. Nobody cares for the new kid in class.

"You know", she says later, "in the old class we always talked about the last weekend or so. Here nobody wants to know."

What's more, this school is not in a charming "boutique neighborhood" of the capital. Maybe in a move to meet their prospective clients, the school set up its slow language classes smack in the middle of "Little Middle East", a crammed and poor area. After school, there are no delighted charming fruit sellers letting Nahlee try half of the shop for free. All, but all shops here are controlled by dark-faced guys with a fez. Even the biscuits she buys come from Turkey or Pakistan and taste like paper. As we browse the streets, we find shockingly cheep fruit and veggies. We try a bit and it all tastes shockingly awful. Dark-faced red-fez'ed men watch us silently as we slip away without a purchase. You know what she does: Once or twice a week, for shopping Nahlee takes the local train back to her old school's area, where she knows her four or five shops and her six or ten reliable attendants.

Isa, by the way, her Indonesian school friend from the first school (see part 3), did not make the move to the new institute. I guess Isa, who is definitely not poor, disliked "Little Middle East", the crammed street and the poor school ambiance. To us Isa explained: "No, I will not change school now. I do another 100 hours at the old school. Thus I can continue to use the book I already have. I don't want to throw it away for the other book in the new school. Maybe I will change later."

I feel guilty to put my shym sensitive Nahlee into the shabby class and a somewhat unwelcoming "Little Middle East". Anyway we both agree she should keep that school at least for a while. Because her change sets in right from day 1.

She comes home from school, fishes an orange juice out of our shiny new fridge, and rattles off lists of new words – learnt not from me, but *from school*! Gosh, she has a whole new range of food items in her vocabulary. You know what they did? The new teacheress took them to the supermarket, where they discussed which items they like and why and how to prepare them. In my language of course, from breakfast rolls to bell pepper. She won't forget what she practiced there.

Next dinner time she kicks off a discussion about the dubious quality of bagged teas: the teacher had taken them to a coffee shop. They had been forced to order in the local language of course. An ordeal for my chary Nahlee, but she came out successful, and so it was a positive adventure. These real life excursions greatly boost her ambition to dig deeper; she is not a grammar-eating machine, you know.

Listen, now she interrupts my talk and gives attention to the radio news:

Radio: "It is three o'clock."

Nahlee: "Oh, dear! Did he say it is *three o'clock*?"

And she won't change into a grammar-eating machine when you pressure her. With great relief she reports that her new teacheress is "never angry". The lady in the other class could get ostentatiously impatient and even angry if her students failed again and again. Not so the new one. Says Nahlee: "She asked me something, but I could not answer. She asked somebody else, but nobody could answer!" Then, according to Nahlee, the teacher just gave a friendly sigh and smiled: "Ok, let's repeat the grammar one more time." At least for my lady such a pressure-free atmosphere greatly helps to learn more. She knows that she may ask dull questions there.

Yes, this school needs three times longer than my caring government had planned. But people there seemingly found a way to trick my tricky language even into people who are no language-pros, like Nahlee. Her dedication jumped up 100 percent, and so I don't bother how long they need until she can finally do the all-important test that precedes her naturalization.

Stickman's thoughts:

This submission just re-enforces what I said before, the language teaching industry isn't professional anywhere. Though for sure, it would never help if students were there against their wishes.