73rd Vhalar, 718
"Can you help me with my homework?"
Ari'sora looked up from the bottle she had been washing to see Lira looking up at her hopefully. Lira was five arcs old, and had just started school. She was a bright young Sev'ryn girl who had been living at the orphanage ever since it had opened. She had a sense of curiosity that rivaled Ari'sora's. But like her, the little girl had to be interested in what she was doing in order to be able to focus on it properly. The two of them had struck up a friendship of sorts. Lira looked up to her as something of a big sister, and Ari'sora loved spending time with the young girl.
"Sure. What do you need help with?"
Ari'sora blinked as she tried to remember what little she knew of the language.
"Common Sign is a language of gestures rather than words, if I remember right. And it is used all over the world."
That much she remembered from reading a book about unusual languages several arcs ago. Unusual in this case being that it was a gestured language rather than one that was spoken, or written. Lira nodded, and beamed at Ari'sora.
"That's right. My teacher says that since it is used all over the world, it is a very useful language to know. Just like Common is."
Ari'sora nodded, flinching inwardly at the reminder that she hadn't spent as much time as she'd wanted to practicing her Common lately.
"Why does your teacher want you to learn Common Sign? Aren't you a little young to be learning new languages in school?"
"She says that it's easier for kids to learn new languages than it is for adults to do it, and she thinks that everyone should be fluent in at least three languages; Common, the language native to their people or city, and at least one other. But she wants us to learn Common Sign because one of our classmates is deaf. Common Sign can be used to "talk" to someone who can't hear, so if we all learn it, we will be able to talk to her."
That was a very good reason to learn a language, and Ari'sora told Lira as much. The young girl agreed with her.
"So what are you having trouble with?"
"There's just so much that I need to learn. Look. Here's the alphabet for Common Sign."
Lira opened one of her text books to show Ari'sora what she wanted her to see. There were twenty six signs, one for each letter in the Common alphabet.
"If you know the alphabet for Common Sign, you can use it to spell words out. That's one way of "speaking" in Common Sign. But that can take a really long time to do. So there's also a lot of signs different words that you have to learn. See?"
Ari'sora did see. In addition to the alphabet signs, there were pages, and pages of signs. It seemed like a lot of work for a child as young as Lila. But when Ari'sora looked in the young girl's eyes, she didn't see boredom, or frustration. Instead, she saw the spark of sheer delight that Ari'sora felt when she was trying to learn a new language. She could also see the sheer determination to succeed. It was clear to Ari'sora that Lira loved the thought of learning a new language as much as she did.
She flipped back to the page where the signs for the alphabet were printed. That seemed like the best place to start, and she told Lira as much. Ari'sora did what she could to help Lira learn the alphabet signs by demonstrating them by copying what she saw in the book. They made a game of it. When Lira needed help forming the signs correctly, Ari'sora would help her by moving the young girl's fingers into the positions that were shown in the book. And in doing so, she found herself picking up several of the signs herself.
"So in Common Sign, your name would be..."
Ari'sora studied the images on the page intently as she made the four letter signs that made up Lira's name. She didn't want to get it wrong. Lira giggled.
"And your's would be...umm..."
Lira did the same thing that she had; use the book as a guide to choose the letter signs she wanted. Ari'sora grinned at her as she nodded.
Lira beamed at her.
"There's more to it than that, though. Cause if you had to spell out every word using the letter signs, it would take forever just to "say" a single sentence. Using just the letter signs would be like talking in baby talk."
"That's what the other signs are for, right?"
"Right. But if you know someone really well, you can give someone a nickname if you use the first letter of their name, and a sign or two that tells others who they are. Like this."
Lira flipped through the pages, clearly searching for a particular sign.
"I can call you this."
Ari'sora recognized the letter sign A, but she had no idea what the other two signs the little girl had used were.
"I chose the A sign for your name since Ari'sora starts with A. Then I used the sign for wing cause you have wings, and the last one was for book since you love to read and learn new stuff. See?"
Lira giggled, and Ari'sora grinned at her. The little girl knew her well. Ari'sora found the signs Lira had told her about in the book. She practiced making them a couple of times, then signed her name back to the young child. Lira giggled again, and nodded. Ari'sora turned her attention back to the book. One of the signs Lira had used would work for Lira as well; "book." That was because they shared a love for learning. She also chose the sign for cat because Lira was as curious as a cat.
"I think your name sign should be this." she said, making the signs once she was confident that she could do it.
"The sign for L, of course. Then "cat" because you are as curious as a cat, and then "book" because you love learning new things as much as I do."
Lira squealed in delight. She practiced her new name sign several times before lunging at Ari'sora, and giving her a huge hug.
"Thank you so much! You helped me a lot with my homework! I was 'posed to make a name sign for myself, and to learn the first five alphabet signs."
"I'm glad that I could help. Do you have any more homework that you need help with?"
"Math. We have to do the problems on these three pages."
Ari'sora had to resist the urge to shudder. She hated math. She was horrible at it, and she wasn't at all certain that she would be of much help to Lira.
"Why don't I help you with that, Lira?"
"Miss Nats!" Lira exclaimed in delight.
Ari'sora gave the older woman a relieved look. Nats Bettes, or Miss Nats as the children called her, was the teacher at Luna's Dream. She didn't talk much outside the classroom, but she knew her stuff. And she was very good at math...unlike Ari'sora. With her arrival, Ari'sora felt as though she had been let off the hook. Nats glanced at Ari'sora with a measuring look.
"You're welcome to join us if you want to, Ari'sora. You might even learn something." the teacher said with a gentle smile that was usually reserved for the children living at the orphanage.
Sometimes, Ari'sora got the feeling that Nats saw her as one of those children. There were times when Ari'sora wondered if she was right. She certainly felt as helpless as a child some trials. Mathematics really wasn't something that Ari'sora would normally try to learn more about. She found the subject to be horribly difficult, and just as boring as it was hard. But working at Luna's Dream meant that there would be a lot of trials like this when she would be asked for help with homework. And she would be failing her duties if she was unable to provide that help when asked.
"I think I will." Ari'sora said with a weak smile.
"So which problems are you having trouble with, Lira?"
"All of them!" Lira cried in frustration.
"Why don't we start at the beginning, then? This first page had addition problems for you to solve. And for those, it is often useful to use something you can see as an example. What is the first problem?"
Lira looked at the page before turning back to her teacher.
"Two plus three."
"Very good. In some ways, addition is a fancy way of counting. If you think of it like that, it may be easier for you to learn. We can use these marbles to show you what I mean."
Nats placed two marbles on the table.
"How many marbles do you see?"
Lira gave her a funny look.
Nats grinned at her. Then the placed three more marbles on the table a little further away from the first two.
"Now how many marbles are there?"
Lira's eyes lit up as she counted them.
Nats nodded, and smiled to show that the little girl was right.
"So what is the answer to two plus three?"
"Very good, Lira. When you are adding something, the answer is always greater than the numbers you started with in the problem itself. That is because you are adding one number to another to get your answer...like counting. Do you think you can do the rest of the problems on the first page by yourself while I talk to Ari'sora? You can use the marbles in this bag to help you, and I will check your answers when you're done, okay?"
Lira nodded, and got to work. Ari'sora noticed that Nats watched her complete the second problem before turning back to her.
"Thank you for offering to help Lira with her math homework." Ari'sora said quietly.
Nats studied her for several trills.
"When you first started working here, I was told that you had never been to school before. Is that true?"
Ari'sora nodded. She stared at her hands uneasily, as if they were suddenly the most interesting things in the whole world. Nats hesitated before continuing.
"How much math do you know?"
Ari'sora scowled in embarrassment.
"Not much. Probably not a whole lot more than Lira does, actually." she muttered.
"I thought as much. That's why you looked so trapped when Lira asked you for help with her math homework."
Ari'sora flushed, but she didn't deny it. She had certainly felt trapped when she'd been asked for help with math. Nats offered her a kind smile.
"Would you like a lesson while Lira is working on her homework?"
"Want" wasn't exactly the word Ari'sora would have chosen, but she nodded anyway. As much as she hated math, it seemed unlikely that she could go through her whole life without needing it.
"I would like that, thanks."
Nats smiled in approval of her decision.
"I'll need to know exactly how much you know if I am to help you."
Ari'sora thought about it for a few trills.
"Well...I can count well enough. I can make change when I'm spending nels, but if there's a lot, that can be hard for me. And I can do really simple stuff like adding two plus three."
"Hmm. I think I will start you with some basic multiplication and division, then. If that's too difficult, let me know. I can start you with some addition and subtraction that is a little more advanced than what Lira is working on until we figure out what your exact level of comprehension is."
Ari'sora nodded. Then she frowned.
"Multiplication is...fancy addition, right? Kinda like addition is like a fancy way of counting?"
"Well...sort of. At the very root it is. In multiplication, you are adding the second number in the problem to itself the same number of times as the first number in the problem. So using six times three as an example, you are adding the number three to itself six times to get a total of eighteen. Does that make sense?"
"I think so. It's a faster way of adding. Sort of. Six times three is the same as three plus three plus three plus three plus three plus three?"
"That's right. Now division is the opposite of multiplication. So if you have to solve fifteen divided by five, the answer would be three. Can you tell me why?"
Ari'sora thought about the question for a few bits. Five times three would be fifteen because five plus five plus five is fifteen. She knew that by counting it in her head. And if the opposite of multiplication was division...
"It's because five goes into fifteen three times? So since five plus five, plus five, or five times three is fifteen, then fifteen divided by five is three?"
Nats grinned at her, and Ari'sora felt a rush of pride to know that she had gotten it right.
"Yes, that's it exactly. Do you want to work on some problems on your own while Lira works on hers?"
"Sure. And thanks again for doing this. You're explanations are a lot easier to understand than the book I had to try to learn it from when I was a kid."
Nats opened another book up to a page that had a mixture of multiplication and division problems on it, and left Ari'sora to her work. Ari'sora still struggled a bit, but that was because she felt guilty for having the lesson while she was working, and because she kep trying to see how Lira was doing. Even with her distractions, she didn't need much more time than Lira did to finish. Nats's explanations really had helped. Of course...she had also had fewer problems than Lira had to finish.
"I finished with the first page, Miss Nats."
The teacher checked the young girl's work, and Ari'sora hoped that she had gotten them all right. It felt good to do well at something, and Ari'sora wanted her friend to have that feeling of accomplishment.
"Very good, Lira. You got them all right."
Ari'sora grinned when Lira cheered. The teacher gave the child a few bits to celebrate her success before claiming her attention once more.
"Did you take a look at the second page of problems, yet?"
"Yes. But they have a minus sign, not a plus sign. So they're sub...sub...minus problems?"
"Subtraction, and yes they are. Addition and subtraction are two very different things. Subtraction problems give you an answer that is less than the numbers involved in the problem itself. So instead of adding something, you are taking it away. Do you want to try the first problem on your own?"
Lira's reply was to bend her head over the page, and start working. Ari'sora had learned a little about subtraction back when she had tried to teach herself as a child. But Nats's explanation was a lot easier for her to understand. It helped her to realize that just as division and multiplication were opposites, addition and subtraction were as well. Sort of, anyway. One added something to what was there before while the other took something away.
Ari'sora watched Lira work for a while, but when she heard what sounded like a dish breaking in the kitchen, she found herself thanking Nats hastily as she ran off to see what had happened.