April 14th was my last day observing IEP classes. (Sad face.)
I got to the Level 4 Listening & Speaking class (my favorite) early and sat quietly in the back. I’d been to that class before, so the students must’ve felt more comfortable with me because within minutes I was completely surrounded. At first, they were asking me questions from their seats across the room. Was I married? Did I graduate from KSU? One student asked what country I was from. I said “Here. America,” and they erupted in a chorus of oh you are so lucky and that is wonderful for you! With each question asked, the little semi-circle around my desk grew smaller and smaller until students were sitting on the table in front of me, each clamoring for my attention.
Granted, I’ve only observed 15 hours of ESL, but I would’ve guessed that the most consistent question in an English classroom had to do with some confusing grammar rule and never would’ve guessed what it really was, which was this: Will you be my friend? I have been asked that by every student I’ve talked to, in some form or another. Every student I met told me how lonely she is in this country or how difficult it is to find someone with whom he can practice his English. One woman even asked me if I could come live in her home as a full-time language nanny.
Just imagine for a moment that you had to leave this country. Imagine you had to move to some far-off land–maybe you are fleeing persecution or civil war, maybe you just want to get a leg-up in the business world. You don’t know anyone. You don’t speak the language. And nobody speaks to you. Nobody goes out of their way to make you feel welcomed. Can you imagine how lonely, and how terrifying, that would be? Imagine what a difference one person could make, if they just tried to help you out.
I would really like to encourage everyone who reads this to seek out the people in your community who need help with their English skills. I can’t imagine a more rewarding way to make friends–you get to learn about a new culture and they learn a valuable skill. I’m not suggesting you need to meet once a week with a grammar primer; instead, just invite him/her along the next time you’re hanging out with friends. Sure, you may get some questions you don’t know how to answer, but that’s okay. You don’t have to have a PhD in English linguistics to do it. Just interacting with native speakers is valuable to a language learner because our native understanding of English, and the way we communicate meaning, is intuitive. Maybe you can’t explain all the rules, but you would know instantly if someone said something incorrectly or if a sentence didn’t make sense.
This is the easiest community service/outreach I can imagine–you will build friendships with & get to know people from all over the world while helping them improve their language skills (and feel welcomed in America), and all you have to do is hang out.
If you live in the Kennesaw area and are interested in meeting some new friends, and helping them work on their English, please email me. :)