Monday, January 10, 2011

Speaking another language

by Karissa

Two or three times a week, after we're finished teaching, we go to a foodstall on our way home from school to pick up sandwiches for supper. I've talked about these sandwiches before, (maybe on Facebook) the 10,000VND or 50 cent sub-like sandwiches. We have two places in particular that we frequent: one we called 'sandwich lady' and the other we call 'the banh mi opla place'.

This story takes places at 'the banh mi opla place' this past Friday night.

Banh mi means bread or anything related (cake, cookies, crackers, cupcakes, muffins, buns, ciabatta) If it's bread, they just use 'banh mi'. If it's cookies they might say banh mi "cookie" (I don't know the word for cookie).

It's Friday night and we're headed to 'the banh mi opla place'. Eric drops me off and goes a few stores down to get a couple of smoothies: pineapple and orange. For 13,000VND each, they're almost a steal.

I order 'hai'. The lady knows us and knows what I mean. Hai means two. She also knows that Eric likes the regular sandwich while I prefer mine without the spicy sauce or funky tasting lettuce/leaves stuff. So I tell her that tonight, both sandwiches are for Eric as I ate earlier. She smiles and I stand there patiently waiting for her to finish up her other orders and then start on mine.

An older woman drives up on her motorbike, smoking the fattest, hand-rolled cigarette I've ever seen. As I'm staring at her, she says hi, smiles and walks over to me.

Smoking lady: This lady makes great sandwiches.
Me: Yes, doesn't she!
Smoking lady: How many do you want to order?
Me: Two.
(Smoking lady tells banh mi op la lady that I want two, even though she already knows)
Smoking lady: Oh! You must be really hungry!
Me: Oh no! They're for my husband. He's up the street.
Smoking lady: Ah! Yes. Well, have a good night!
Me: You too!

Nice lady, hey?

Now wait a second. The lady doesn't know English. And I don't speak Vietnamese, yet.


I don't know her native language and she doesn't know mine.

This conversation was in TPR, the language of ESL teachers everywhere: total physical response.


Yup, it was completely acted out.


  1. Hmmm...Hard to imagine "you must be hungry" in TPR. :) I think TPR is a good tool...but I once took an ESL class where the instructor was TPR crazy. I was like "really? How far is "stand up / sit down" going to take me in my classroom...???

  2. I remember the first conversation I had using nothing but my eyebrows. When it was finished, I talked to the English and Fijian Speaking co-worker of mine and said, "Did we just talk about?" She said we were. And then I said, "and we agreed to..." and she confirmed that we did. Totally successful sending and receiving of a message using nothing but eyebrows. I'd seen it when I first got there but didn't think it would ever be possible.