From the desk of Alissa:
Communication. Ugh. When I used to think about “good communication,” it was in the context of relating to my spouse or being transparent with my feelings among friends and co-workers. And comparatively speaking, it was quite easy. Adding a language barrier to having “good communication” often makes my days exhausting and keeps me in a constant state of unease about what my coworkers actually think about me and my management style.
And because “good communication” is usually a burden in 90% of my conversations, it nice to be able to laugh sometimes.
Last Saturday I was running errands with our driver, Tommy. We stopped to pick up two pillows because Todd’s parents are visiting us this upcoming weekend (at the time of buying the pillows, we were exactly two weeks from their arrival date). When we were done with errands and Tommy was leaving to go home, we had the following conversation:
Tommy: So Todd’s parents will arrive on Monday?
Alissa: No, they will come in two weeks.
Tommy: Ah, they will come within two weeks.
Alissa: No, they are scheduled to arrive in exactly two weeks.
Tommy: So, within two weeks, they will come.
Alissa: On August 21st, they will come to Yangon in an airplane.
In addition to learning Burmese, we’re teaching English on Sunday afternoons. Last weekend we were studying vocabulary for things in your kitchen. I had a girl ask me three times “What is in your chicken?”
The only reason I can laugh at that interaction is because every day as I struggle through the burmese language, I say equally, if not more, comical things. Needless to say, I have a much higher level of respect and empathy for non-native English speakers trying to navigate the American education system or workplace. And I’m grateful that Burmese people are infinitely more patient with non-Burmese speakers than Americans are with non-English speakers. I'll leave you with my most notable conversational blunder to date, when I met someone new and attempted to say "Glad to meet you":
Alissa - "Tway ya da won THWA ba de"
Alissa's Coworker - " no no... it's 'tway ya da won THA ba de.' You just told him you were so glad to see him that you went to the bathroom."