「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


Secret powers

By Samantha Loong


These days, it's not that common for children to grow up living with their grandparents. I was one of the lucky ones, spending a large amount of my childhood, part of my teens and then a little of my adulthood living with my grandmother.

Over the years, I've come to realise that my gran had many secret powers. We used to share a room together and she would read storybooks to me before I knew the alphabet. She would tell me these stories in Cantonese while I looked at the pictures and the English words. One of my favourite stories was The Little Red Hen; there were talking animals, a hardworking, clever hen, the making of food and sweet justice.

It was only later when I tried reading the books myself and asked my gran questions about the words that I discovered she didn't know how to read or write. How she knew so many stories and fables I'll never know — this was just one of her many secret powers. But her powers couldn't get me to go to sleep at night, so she also gave me sips of her nightcap and taught me card games.

Although she wasn't allowed to go to school, growing up in Malaysia my gran naturally learned how to speak Malay. And when she looked after children in an English-speaking household, she picked up some English. She has always been quietly observing, listening and learning. But I never really heard her use any English, so for the longest time I thought she couldn't speak it.

When she came to live with us in New Zealand however, she would sometimes have to answer the phone in English. She would pick it up with a tentative "Hello?" and then respond as needed: "Sorry, she's not home," or "Sorry, he's not home." She was already doing better than some of my elementary-level students who still struggle to use "she" and "he" correctly.

When I went to visit gran in hospital recently, I knocked on her room door and heard her confidently say in English: "Come in." She then told us how, when she couldn't find the call button, she told the nurse in English: "Something I lost." Her word order might've been slightly off, but her pronunciation and correct use of the past tense made me beam with pride.

Here was an 85-year-old woman with no formal education, showing her English language chops. It's a shame it took a hospital visit for me to see this other amazing side of her. Some of her powers — like being able to peel onions without crying and spin tops like a pro — unfortunately haven't been passed onto anyone. But her storytelling prowess and her often surreal imagination have inspired me to read, write and create. And her secret language abilities make me realise that if she can learn several languages, anyone can. So don't leave it too late to reveal your powers — you never know who you might inspire.



The Japan Times ST: June 21, 2013

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート




2018年6月29日号    試読・購読   デジタル版