Tuesday, 14 July 2009


I speak two languages. Only one of which is of a great deal of use around where I work, and you're reading it now. I understand enough of a couple of other languages to know when someone is either swearing at me or at least talking about me. And I know the word for pain in about another three. The problem is that the other hundred plus languages that are used regularly in our area are still a complete mystery to me. However, I've now worked out the secret. I can now ask a wide variety of questions in any language I wish. Well, kind of...
Mrs Shah claims she's about 90 years old. Nobody knows exactly. Her passport has a made up date on it which may or may not closely resemble her true date of birth. She moved with her family from India many years ago, but never really learnt to speak English. She was spoilt for choice of translators, with her children and grandchildren speaking both their native tongue as well as fluent English. She lives with her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, and is very clearly the matriarch of a very close and tight-knit tribe. She may be elderly, but Mrs Shah is definitely in charge. I feel that we all have a lot to learn from their way of life - especially when it comes to social and family responsibility. Everyone looks after everyone else.
She's had a fall at home, and is still sitting on the floor when I arrive. The look I get clearly says "Who's invited him into my home?". I introduce myself and explain why I'm here as the simultaneous translation is done by a 15 year old, better than any professional. I show off and ask her in her language if she has any pain. The Shah family are in hysterics, and the matriarch eyes me with slightly less suspicion, and even a glint of amusement. Brownie points galore. Excellent. How to win friends and influence people.
I've noticed many times before that translators often throw in English phrases into the conversation, which always amuses me. I laugh, because I do it too. In fact, I do it in both directions. I have words missing in both languages that I steal from the other and just assume that people will understand. My kids are just used to it, and even now do it themselves. I've also noticed how, sometimes, if you say the same word, with a slightly different emphasis or accent, it seems to be understood by the non-English speaking patient.
I ask the translator to inform Mrs S that I need to check her sugar levels, and what sounds like automatic gunfire flies across the room, and she agrees to allow me to steal the tiny drop of blood from her finger. The same when I asked her to check her temperature. By this time, the rapport with the family (more of whom just seemed to appear out of nowhere) is excellent. Mrs Shah sends one of the grandkids into the kitchen with a list of orders. 2 minutes later they return with a cup of tea for her and a tray of drink and biscuits for me, which I politely decline. In the meantime, Mrs Shah has indicated in no uncertain terms that she isn't going to hospital. She's not injured other than a grazed arm, and has an amazing family support network, so I'm happy to agree. But there's just one more thing I need to check before I can complete my paperwork. I need to check her blood pressure. Slightly hesitantly, somewhat bravely, and very cheekily, I put on my best Indian accent (which is rubbish), turn directly to Mrs Shah and say "Blood Pressure Hah?" No offence meant, and none taken. Just my lame attempt at being multi-lingual.
To the amusement of the family she just smiles and presents me her arm.

1 comment:

molliemallone said...

My Father in Law retired to Cyprus several years ago, and still doesn't speak a word of Greek, other than 'Yammas' (Cheers!) His next door neighbour is a 95yr old Cypriot woman who doesn't speak a word of English. They have these hilarious 'conversations' which involve him speaking English slowly with a dodgy accent, and her speaking Greek with another dodgy accent, their arms flailing about wildly.

When you ask him afterwards what she said, he hasn't a clue. I suspect if I asked her the same (I don't as I don't speak the lingo either!) she would say the same, but still they have their chats.