Repeat after Me

Sitting in on an adult ELT class is a lot like listening to a game of Mad-Gab. You can hear the words people are saying, but all they are saying is different sounds. When they finally understand, the words take their true form and are no longer a garble of nothings.

To date, sitting in on a class may be one of my favorite internship experiences. Not only do I have great admiration of the teachers’ patience, but the student’s wish to learn English is inspirational. The class I sat in had nine students: three Somalian women, two Nepali women, two Nepali men, an Iraqi man and an Iraqi women.

The Somalian women are in their own clique; separating themselves from the other students. Always whispering among themselves and helping supply the correct answer. The Nepali women are shy, but eager to take part in class. They often had the answer put together first, but spoke so quietly the teacher never gave them credit. The Nepali men sat on the other side of the room and rarely spoke unless the teacher, upon recalling their presence, directly asked them to take part. The Iraqi couple sat off to the side, with the women learning English fairly well and the man jumping in, forgetting how words sound moments after he heard them, sounding out words he didn’t know– truly desirous of knowledge.

Glances at their papers revealed how new English was to them; their handwriting was infantile, easily comparable to a first or second grader. Their written languages are much different from English (or the other Romantic languages). Yet, even though writing is new and difficult, the students diligently wrote down every word the teacher taught them.

The most interesting aspect of this class was the age of the students. The youngest in the room was 40 and the oldest was 88– with a median close to 60. I think, as a society, we often have this notion that first generation immigrants do not want to learn English or are too fixed in their ways to bother changing. This class impressed me and blew that idea out of water. The students were not young people, but older– all of them at an age where language acquisition nearly impossible. Still, there they were: four hours, four days a week, they come to English class to learn English and about the United States. They are eager to learn about their new home.

The class really made me pause and wonder if I would be the same in a new country. Would I want to learn more than the survival language skills? Would I have the patience or ability to learn any more than that? What would it be like not to have the language skills? At 88, would I eagerly await instruction? Would I willingly make mistakes and put myself out there?

Would you?


One thought on “Repeat after Me

  1. That’s similar to Holy Rosary. During the morning classes almost everyone is older, and in the evening it’s a lot of younger people who are sometimes working during the days. The mix there was mostly Somali and Hispanic with a few other random ethnicities represented, but everyone who was there wanted to be there and learn English. And for our African students, their handwriting was very poor and childlike as well. Many of them are learning how to read and write for the first time in addition to learning a new language, so they have to deal with so many different issues every time they come to class, and then try to get by in the real world while knowing whatever small amount they know. I get so mad at people when they say things like “if you live in America, speak English” because I don’t think they realize how much time it takes to learn a new language and how hard most of those people are trying. Most of them want to be able to communicate in this society, but it takes a long time, plus they have to do it with whatever free time they have and if they are working or trying to work it’s often not much time, especially if they also have families. It’s really admirable.

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