Sunday, 29 November 2009

Contrasting speech

This job brings me into contact with all sorts of different people and I have to adapt accordingly. A few days ago I saw a teenager who lives in a single mothers' hostel. Her background is so different from mine that it took a major effort to see things from her point of view. Abandonded by her mother and with little support from the rest of her family, her main concern is to find a boyfriend who will stick with her. Other considerations such as looking after her baby or keeping her room tidy seem secondary. Teenagers from her section of society have their own argot (think of "Vicky Pollard" from the comedy sketch programme "Little Britain") and I couldn't always understand what she was saying. At one point her key worker told her that a social worker would call on her at 9am next day. "I'll have a right bag on at nine o'clock!" she replied. But at the same time she was clearly having difficult understanding me. I don't often use medical jargon when talking to patients, but I do use a wide variety of vocabulary and phrases. On this occasion I found I had to make my sentences very simple so that she could understand me, as though I was talking to someone who was still learning English. In a way I suppose she is.

On the other hand, I recently saw a man of my own age who works for an arbitration service. I made a jocular remark about knocking people's heads together, but I then feared he might think I was making light of his professional skills. So I added "there are some of my patients whose heads I'd like to knock together but I'm not allowed to, so I have to stay calm". "Ah yes" he replied sagely, "it can be very stressful staying calm all day".

It's comments like that which keep me going.

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