Last week when I went to meet with Liuda for an English lesson, I met her daughter driving her out of the driveway. Liuda had forgotten I was coming. Her daughter had a day off work and had offered to take her to the DMV to get her learner’s permit. Liuda passed!
This afternoon I went back to Liuda’s house and started out by asking her about her exam at the DMV. She showed me her new learner’s permit. I asked if she had practiced driving yet and she said, “No” so I took her over to the window and showed her my truck. I asked if she would like to practice. She looked nervous, but she quickly got her purse and we got in the truck. She had suggested a church parking lot near her house for her first lesson. I knew where it was, so I drove us there and parked in the lot. I traded seats with her and tried to point to things and define them. She understood the basic words like “left” and “right” and “stop”. She knew “brake” and “gas”. It took a little to explain “reverse” and “drive”, and then I asked her to back out of the parking space. She looked a little scared and said, “I watch you.” We traded sides again and I slowly backed out of the parking space, drove to the other side of the lot, and parked again.
We exchanged places again and I talked her through backing out of the parking space. Driving forward was a whole other matter. At first she just kept the wheel turned left and did a circle in the middle of the lot. I had her stop and I said, “Let’s pretend that all the yellow stripes are a sidewalk and the black part is the street.” She drove over the “sidewalk” on one side, turned the wheel the other way and drove over the “sidewalk” on the other side. We worked on the concept of going straight. I had her turn her signal on before turning.
It took a while before she had enough control not to run off on the grass or aim toward the church and nearly hit it, but she was still kind of all over the place. Sometimes she stepped on the gas a little too hard and scared herself. I began working with her on seeing a pretend right lane and staying in it without driving over the sidewalk. I directed her to turn wide so she would be in the right lane. I even resorted to telling her to imagine that her cat, Sasha, was on the sidewalk. Every time she drove over the “sidewalk”, I said, “Oh-oh! There goes Sasha!” We laughed and hopefully it eased her tension some.
When she seemed a little more in control, I added another degree of difficulty to her practice. We had been going left, left, left around the parking lot, but next to the church was a small cemetery, and there was a one-lane road that went around it, so the next time we came to a stop facing the church, I told her to signal right. Her eyes popped open and she looked at me like she thought I was crazy, but she tried it. She turned onto the grass beside the little road and was aiming for a head stone before she got stopped. I told her to turn left to get back on the road. She had a difficult time staying on the road, and when we came back toward the parking lot, she side-swiped a bush. She put her hand over her mouth in terror, but I patted her shoulder and told her it was OK.
We went around left and left and left again and then I told her to turn right. She ended up on the grass, but not headed for a grave stone this time. We were making progress! She still had a little trouble staying on the road, but this time she managed to miss the bush. I praised her. We got back to the parking lot and did left, left, left, and then I had her turn right again. She still turned onto the grass, but once she got on the little road, she managed to stay on it. Yay!
When we got back to the parking lot, I had her put the truck in park, and with her attention on me, I said, “Do you want to go home now?” She nodded her head vigorously, so we traded seats and I drove her home. With her device, she thanked me warmly for helping her. I asked her if she had ever driven in her country and she said that she always took public transportation. I asked if she rode a bicycle, which she had, and I tried to convince her that steering a bicycle is like steering a car, but she wasn’t having it. She said the car was much harder.
As I think about driving with her, I am becoming re-sensitized to how many things we do simultaneously. I don’t even think about having to turn on the signal, step on the brake, turn the wheel and step on the gas. It’s all second nature now. But for someone just learning, it’s a lot to focus on at one time. I’m giving some thought to other ways to get her familiar with the mechanics of driving in a relatively safe environment where she doesn’t have to keep going in circles. I want to see if I can get her in a go-cart or a golf cart before having her attempt my big truck again. At least I figure that if she is driving, she can’t use her device as much for translation. She is getting to hear short commands in English and understand what to do with them. She’s getting a double workout!