September 30, 2009 | Arabic

More Teaching in Bay Ridge

I spend time with one of my favorite students.

Today I taught again at the Arab American Association of New York. Out of several possible students—I have been taking the advanced ones—only one person showed this time. I’ll call her Fatima, though that’s not her real name.

Bilingual List of Services from a Bay Ridge Window

Fatima is slim, very pretty, and has a clear, bell-like voice. She is from Yemen, in her early twenties, and has been married for several years. Like almost every woman I’ve seen there for the daytime classes, she wears a hijab.

Because it was just the two of us, Fatima got a private coaching session, which consisted essentially of our talking for two hours. She currently has some trouble comprehending and communicating in English, but she is smart, and her pronunciation is good. Although she lacks vocabulary, she knows a lot of grammar, so she has a solid framework to build on.

During our conversation, Fatima told me she was the only girl in her village’s secondary school, and the first girl to finish it. Her father and brother supported her in her education. She said the boys in school were not allowed to talk to her, because she was a girl. That sounded very lonely to me.

I told her I admired what she has accomplished, but I don’t think she understood, even though I tried to explain it in several different ways. She clearly aches to learn English as fast as she possibly can.

5th Avenue, Bay Ridge

As we talked, I was reminded, yet again, of the power of a vowel. Fatima was trying to explain to me something about a bus, but she kept saying “ankle,” and I could not understand what possible relationship there could be between a bus and an ankle. I persisted with questions until I finally figured it out. The bus belongs to her uncle. I pointed to my ankle, and she laughed.

It is amazing how much damage a simple vowel shift can do to a sentence. That kind of thing feeds my self-consciousness when I speak in a language I don’t know well. I have to let it go, though. She did!

On another note: I think I am being too lazy on my project. I am not doing grammar exercises at night, as I was with Russian. I don’t have a book I am drawn to. I have repeatedly looked for one, but I don’t see any other books that appeal. I need to make do with what I have. I can’t expect to solve problems simply by buying more books. A lot of people try to do that, for all kinds of challenges, but buying a book does not make you smarter or more educated if you don’t read it.

It does, however, make you poorer and take up room in your New York apartment.

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