Friday, October 16, 2009

A Perfect Example

I'm so happy to be back helping with English class, although I continue to wonder how much I actually help. Yesterday, I administered a spelling test to three women in the more advanced book—we all stumbled on the word "environment." It's got that tricky "n" in the middle and is so cumbersome to pronounce, most people don't bother and just sort of slur through it. I was also reminded of how confusing the "b" sound can be when switching from Spanish to English. When I asked them to spell the word "globe," one of them wrote out "glove" even though I was careful to enunciate the "b" to the point of sounding ridiculous. Interesting.

I also sat in a quieter room with the same advanced students to read through a newspaper written for people speaking English as a second language. We read about the giant carp named Benson who was found floating dead in his home lake in England. Benson was 25 years old and weighed 52 pounds. The poor guy had been hooked over 60 times in his lifetime.

We also read about a teenage boy whose family moved to the States from Guatemala illegally. The boy was very young at the time and now knows nothing about his home country. He's completely assimilated and is a star student in his high school. Still, he was arrested by the INS and was going to be deported without his family, to be sent to a country he didn't know. For some reason, the department had a change of heart, released him, and he graduated as an A student.

During class, we also made banana bread and listened to an education adviser talk about the importance of singing and playing with small children as a way to teach them language. But none of that was a real highlight for the morning. What was most impressive was a visit from a former student of the program, a beautiful Guatemalan woman who started classes eight years ago at a time when she spoke no English at all. She worked and worked while being mother to two children, studying alongside her elementary-age son, until she finally completed the GED program. She passed her diploma around the room and told all the other students not to give up even when they become so discouraged they want to cry and walk away. They all genuinely seemed to be impressed and encouraged because, really, learning a second language as an adult is more than challenging. And these people have to learn not just to speak and read English but to master basic math, geography and American history in order to completely finish the program. Because schools in rural Guatemala are hard to come by, so many of them have just a few years of education even in their native language.

Fortunately, they don't have to learn math from me because I'm lucky if I can make change from a dollar bill. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but these students really do have a lot of work ahead of them, and it was great for them to see someone reach the goal.

And about that soccer match I was hoping to cover for the newspaper this weekend, the Guatemalan players have said they won't agree to an interview or photos because the Mexicans tend to start fights on the field, and they don't want that part of the story told. They're afraid the Americans around town will think all the immigrants are volatile trouble makers. So, no soccer match for Scout the Reporter.

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