Monday, January 17, 2011

Learning to speak the language....

It was a typical afternoon class. My students were all working on their grammar, and I was about to work one on one with my newest student who had just been adopted from the Ukraine. I pulled the picture book that I had gotten from the library - the one with word labels for the parts of the body. I turned the page to reveal the picture of a skeleton and my student brightened immediately. "Oh, skeleton!" he said with a thick accent. Yes! We were off to a great start! I covered the words with my hand and pointed to each part - skull? Yes, skull. Shoulders caused a bit of hesitation so I pointed to his shoulders and my own. Ah! Shoulders. We were definitely on a roll! We continued on down the body - neck, ribs, then we came to hips. He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face. Well, since pointing to my own shoulders had given him the hint, I decided I should point to my hip bones thinking perhaps it was simply the skeleton picture that caused him to not "get" the word. He again looked at me and in a very puzzled voice said, "Fat?" can quit laughing now! I have to still cracks me up too. He was so innocent and was just trying to figure out what to say!

That one incident got me to thinking of all the wonderful students I have had over the years who were from other countries. I have taught young men and women from Russia, Portugal, Brazil, China, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Korea. All of them hold a very special place in my heart as I watch them find their place both as young adults and as foreigners in a strange land. We often work to help students from other countries embrace their new home while making sure they don't forget where they are from. If we don't help them connect the two worlds, we do them a huge disservice. But that doesn't mean it's easy. I recently talked with a former student who commented that she didn't feel she fit in either world anymore. She struggled with feeling she just didn't belong. I tried to assure her, she was not alone. We all feel that way sometimes.

I can relate to her struggle; can't you? There are many times when I remember, I am not of this world. While I live and work here, Heaven is truly my home. I find that at times I long for that home - especially when life gets too tough. At other times, I get so comfortable here, I act as though this is all there is. But then something will happen and the "language" of the world will  once again start to sound different to what I know. I probably light up just like my students when I hear another person who "speaks my language and understands what I mean." I find I want to be like my students - able to understand and communicate in this world, without forgetting what I already know. (And I guess I should make sure I don't call anyone fat by accident while I'm at it.)

In all this, I am reminded of another time when I was the one in the foreign land. We were on a mission trip and stopped to get something to drink and use the restrooms. A little boy about 4 or 5 years old came up to me and started jabbering away as if he just knew I would understand. I said the only thing I knew, "No comprende". He looked at me and repeated himself. I responded again, "No comprende". By now he was getting quite frustrated and he grabbed my arm, pulled me down so that he could YELL into my ear and then slowly said one word at a time. I was almost rolling on the ground I was laughing so hard! It was universal! If they don't understand you, slow down and say it LOUD!

I want to get to the place where I can speak to those around me in a way they will understand - I know from experience just yelling it at them won't help if they don't understand the words! Lord, help me to learn to speak the language of the land in which I live....and yet never forget the sweet sound of those who speak of Home.
Guess you could say I learn a lot from my students.

1 comment:

Dena Dyer said...

I'm so glad you've joined The High Calling blog network! :) I work in refugee resettlement and some of my dearest friends are former refugees and the ESL teachers we have on staff. Glad to have you aboard THC, and I hope to read more of your posts and comments soon!