Today at 6 am, 10 Mexican workers hired by the insurance company to repair the hurricane damage to the roof showed up at the Gulf Hills home of my mother and stepfather (My Friend George). They speak no English. Neither house resident speaks any Spanish. They'd been warned ahead of time that they would not be able to leave the house until the job was done.
Soon the entire house was swathed in plastic. The ground around it was covered. The workers wore protective garments and goggles. They are professionals at dealing with the hazard of asbestos.
Mother spied the morning newspaper lying out in the lawn. She wanted to bring it inside and read it, but could not get outside. Catching the attention of one of the workers, she asked him for the newspaper. When he could not understand, she got a newspaper from inside the house, held it up and pointed to the one in the grass. Beaming, the worker retrieved the paper for her.
She went on for quite a while about how efficient and careful they were, then expressed the wish to be able to thank them when they were done.
So, she got a long distance language lesson -- Good work! in Spanish. (Buen trabajo.) I pronounced it for her, but she couldn't tell what letters I was saying, so she asked me to spell it. I'd say B, she'd say C, or F, or... what I needed was the Able, Baker, Charley code to spell it out to her.
We'd been having trouble hearing clearly what was said IN ENGLISH throughout the whole phone call, so no wonder when she had no idea what she was hearing that she couldn't repeat it.
She got her paper ready to write it down, then did it with "code-like) English words and lots of references. Bw was giving her fits. She could get the Wayne sound right. Finally, inspiration struck. She'd watched the Tarzan episodes with Johnny Weissmuller when we lived in Chicago. He always was called Bwana. She could easily repeat that word when I gave it to her in that context. So we got BWA from bwana, then swapped the vowel for the one in the boy's name Wayne. Tra came out Trey at first, but Tra la la got that one fixed. Before she hung up, she'd pronounced Buen trabajo several times perfectly while reading it off her phonemic spelling. (She should have heard one of my students trying to do that same thing last night with some names she'd gotten off the internet and had to say, as well as the country, with the right cadence and accent. Mom was SHARP.)
I told her I expected feedback on her Spanish attempt. Now, I'm second-guessing myself. Should I have just had her try to say GRACIAS? (GRAH see us) Thank you.