Connecting Through Language Learning
I believe in teaching English to speakers of other languages, especially adult students and newcomers to America. In my classroom at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, I see faces from all over the world, a diverse group of people who have come together for a common purpose – to learn English. My students are white, black, Hispanic and Asian; from Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas; Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu. They are all trying to create a better life for themselves and their families. And learning a common language to communicate with each other is where we begin.
In the first-level course, students write their autobiographies, practicing their writing skills by starting with what they know. They share their stories with classmates, trying to write clearly so that others can understand. They explain different customs and practices to each other and marvel at the unfamiliar, all the while recognizing the commonalities. They come to see our classroom as a safe place, a place of respect and understanding, a place of support in their new and often confusing lives. They help each other with suggestions, advice, and answers to questions beyond our classroom walls. Through the process of writing the stories of their lives, they join the many other immigrants who have come before them, each with his or her own story, each forming a part of our larger national history.
I believe that teaching English to speakers of other languages is a privilege, which helps not only my students, but also helps me become a wiser, more open, and more understanding person. As my students struggle to learn English, I learn from them about their countries of origin and of their experiences coming to America. Through the writing and sharing of stories, we all learn about each other: about one student’s experience fleeing war in Kosovo, another’s life in the refugee camps of Kenya, about the problems facing women in third-world countries, and about burial ceremonies in China. We learn about India and Mexico, and about customs in Nepal; also about the difficulties of not knowing the English language and trying to go to high school in New York City. We talk about the green card process, about traveling and first experiences on airplanes, and of arriving in Rochester in the winter and thinking it must be Siberia.
Although our world is quickly growing connected in technologically advanced ways, face-to-face interaction on a deep level with persons of different backgrounds is a rare privilege. In telling and writing the stories of our lives, we share with one another, teach understanding and respect for each other, and become friends. This, I believe.
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