We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Almost English

When you learn a new language—any language—it’s natural to start by learning words and substituting them into the sentence structures you already know. We do this frequently, and our friends laugh at us when we say something in a way they would never say it.

What we have found, however, is that when they try to speak English, they do it, too. So the multitudes of people here who have learned just a little English come up with some pretty creative ways of communicating. Often, when they learn a common English phrase, they don’t understand what each individual word means, or even how the sounds are broken down into words. They just know that when they make those sounds, they get a certain response.

For example, I often get the question “What is your name?” Of course when they ask, I tell them my name. After that, they will frequently point to Lee Anna or Sawyer and ask me “What is your name?” again (translation: What is his/her name?). Sometimes they don’t even ask my name, but just point to Sawyer and ask me “What is your name?” Sometimes I have to repeat the question in Arabic to figure out whose name they’re really asking for.

When calling a friend on the telephone here, it is customary to ask about the well-being of each family member before getting around to the real purpose of the call. So when my friend calls me, he likes to use the little bit of English he knows to ask, “How are you Jason?” Then he asks me, “How are you Lee Anna?” and “How are you Sawyer?” and “How are you Elizabeth?”

The converse sentence also works. A little girl introduced herself to us, in English, saying, “I am Rana,” then put her hands on her friend’s shoulder and introduced her: “I am Hind.”

All of these were amusing, but we heard the very best one yet from a taxi driver Sunday night. He was trying to get Lee Anna to tell him his name, so he asked her, “What’s your name?” When she didn’t answer, he told her “I am what’s your name Fayouz.” That’s close to “My name is Fayouz”, right?

To be fair, I am sure that every night for the past 11 months, at least one taxi driver has gone home and told his family the funny way I expressed something in Arabic. I use feminine verbs with masculine pronouns and plural adjectives all the time!


  1. Say WHAT??? "Again come...."


  2. Oh but yes. I know I lived through several of those experiences but I can't think of any specifically just now. After a certain point, we knew one of the reasons we'd been sent there was to be the comedic relief...that and give them a white person to stare and yell at...yeah, that's why I was there ;-)

    Happy Thanksgiving and know you're loved!!!