Monday, September 18, 2006

"I can't speak English"

I got a call from one of the caregivers who always starts off by telling me she cannot speak English - and I've been talking to her for at least 3 years now. She'll then proceed to speak with me for the rest of the conversation in English - and yes, it's not grammatically correct, but it gets the point across, which I've told her many times.

The thing is - it doesn't matter if you can speak the language perfectly. The thing is to get the message across - and this woman does. It's the same with letters, I often get calls from people saying that they want me to write a letter for them in English to their MPs, but that they cannot write very well in English. It doesn't matter. Just write it anyway! It's much more important to put across the message in your own words - whether that be in English, in Mandarin, or whatever language it is you're comfortable in. As I mentioned the other day, town councils are careful about making sure no one feels discriminated against in terms of language, so they're not going to chuck your letter out because it's not written in English.

I realise that there is a language barrier for some caregivers, but the main thing is not to be frightened or intimidated by it. Just try your best to express yourself and that honesty will carry through.

The best thing you can say about my Mandarin is that it's enthusiastic - when I first started out with CWS, I used to get the words for 'suspicious' and 'pregnant' mixed up, so I would ask someone if they were suspicious of a certain person, and it came out with me asking if the woman was pregnant with that person. So far, no one has taken offence because I think most people see that I'm trying to communicate.

One of the nicest things I've seen is Jolanda and one of the dedicated caregivers we know. Jolanda doesn't speak much Mandarin, and the woman hardly spoke any English, but they communicated and worked together just fine.

Having someone else write your letter for you loses that unique flavour which only YOU can put in it, and that's quintessential part of you is the most important thing you can put in it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think it is fine when u are talking with someone whom u know is on yr side. but when one is speaking to an official, i do understand where these ppl are coming from. better to the safe than sorry or someone may have to step in and undo a misunderstanding and who knows, in the meantime some poor cats may be witched away by the AVA...

18/9/06 1:49 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Anonymous, I agree that they're worried and I can see why. However, they DO need to get to know their officials. At the end of the day, the TC officers are people too. For example, most TC officers speak Mandarin, so that isn't a problem. If you speak Malay or Tamil I am certain there are officers who can speak with you.

The main thing is the willingness to speak up. You don't have to speak the Queen's English to be heard - and I also think that a lot of caregivers put themselves down. I don't speak a word of Hokkien, and this woman doesn't speak any English or Mandarin, but I've never had trouble understanding her.

18/9/06 1:55 PM  

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