“She was like a sponge, spending most of her day studying. I had a difficult time keeping up with her.”
That’s tutor Judy Rudman, talking about Lai Lam. There was a good reason for her devotion to learning.
Lai says that you become a better person when you can understand more. And for that to happen you need to read and talk to people. You have to know a language to get and give help, and to get caught up in life.
The importance of language
Lai has always known the importance of language. She was born in Myanmar (Burma) and then her family moved to Macau when she was 13 to avoid the persecution in Myanmar. The language of Macau is Chinese, so Lai learned it—secretly, because her family didn’t approve.
When she came to the Maine in 1993 and got married, her English was limited. She worked with tutors Judy Rudman and Kara Schreiber. They would bring flyers from local stores which they read together, and sometimes took the flyers and went shopping.
Because she had a chronic illness, medical language was critical for Lai. She needed an interpreter when she went the doctor, but she wrote down anything she didn’t understand and checked the meaning in a dictionary at home. Today, she is the one who goes to doctors with family members and translates, checking unfamiliar words on her phone.
Lai has relied on Public Radio to improve her spoken English and to help her know what is happening in the world. She keeps the station on all day at work at Henry’s Bridal, where she does alterations. It helps her learn new words and expressions. When she first started listening, she thought that the announcers talked too fast. Now she says she understands easily 98% of what is said.
Lai’s whole family has been part of Literacy Volunteers. Her brother, husband, and three sisters-in-law have had tutors. She continues to send students to us. Literacy Volunteers and Lai celebrated their collaboration when she was a featured speaker at Literacy Volunteers’ 40th anniversary gala in 2009.