I’ve Got the Whole Wide World, In My Hands….

Circa 1979

OK Yogini, you take the Vietnamese students and practice their pronunciation with them.

And you, Maria, you go to the other corner with the Afghani students and do the same.

I will work with the other kids from Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, Iran, and Central America.

Today’s lesson is about the pronunciation of English words that begin with the consonants B, V, and W.

Repeat after me: Let’s vote before we boat. Let’s whistle while we walk.

The din in Room N-9 sounded productive until I listened more selectively.

Yogini, my East Indian aide, was on task, but one problem came into earshot: she had her own pronunciation issues. Her group, comprised of Vietnamese teenagers, many who had fled Vietnam in small boats under traumatic circumstances, sounded like this:

Let’s woat before ve boat. Let’s vhistle vile ve valk.

Maria, my Bolivian aide, on the other side of my universe, was doing the same. Her group, young Afghani kids who had left Kabul under Soviet fire, sounded like this:

Let’s boat before we vote. Let’s wheestle while we walk.

That year, one in which I had agreed to leave my traditional English classroom of language and American literature, taught me to love people more than I did already. At times though, I felt like Oz, a fake behind the curtain, teaching English to traumatized but adaptive teens, who like Dorothy, just wanted to go home.

Yogini and Maria, my trusty aides, were not the first adults I had met from foreign countries. Prior to my teaching at American High School, I taught ESL at the local adult school, a position that enabled me to stay home part of the day with my two children.

Circa 1980

My name is Howard Tom, I am 75 years old, my wife is Caucasian, our hobby is gems, and I founded the South Bay Chinese Club.

Thank you Mr. Tom.

My name is Mr.Mohsen Shaghafi. This is my wife, Mahsheed. We are retired. We are Persian. We would like to invite you to our house for tea.

Thank you, Mr. Shaghafi. Nice to meet you, Mahsheed.. I would be honored to visit your home.

My name is Bijan. I am a student here in the US. I am Iranian.

Thank you Bijan.

Geopolitics aside, with a class in Level B English, I stayed on task. I was only 30 years old and naïve.

Mr. and Mrs. Shaghafi sat far away from Bijan. The American hostages sat in prison as the Ayatollah’s pawns in faraway Tehran. Soon Bijan’s green card would be revoked when the Ayatollah Khomeini summoned all Iranian students back home.

Meanwhile, as the holidays approached, I was using the song The Twelve Days of Christmas to teach English.

Howard Tom and the ladies from Taiwan were the Four Calling Birds.

Mohsen, Mahsheed and I were the Three French Hens.

Bijan was the Partridge in the Pear Tree.

Circa 2009

Today, my clients are from all over the world. Each has a story to tell.
I listen carefully.

My friends are from India, China, Taiwan, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Korea, and Holland. I have lunch with Italians and Israelis.

Now, it is I who try to say thank-you in Korean:

Kam Sa Ham Ni Da

No worries in Mandarin:

May Wen Ti

Good Bye in Spanish


Photo by Ron Sabraw 2008 Carefree, Arizona “At the End of the Day”

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in People and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to I’ve Got the Whole Wide World, In My Hands….

  1. lakeviewer says:

    What a delightful story. Thank you for reminding all of us that we learned more than we taught when we met students from other parts of the world.

  2. andreaskluth.org says:

    That reminds me of working in an investment bank–long, long ago–with a Spanish friend and colleague. Their problem is that they cannot distinguish between the long and short e. As in: reed vs rid.
    This led to daily amusement, since our main (only) task was to update and compare our … spreadsheets.

  3. Sunny says:

    It’s amazing how much the world and people have changed. There’re still not many ESL teachers who respect and pay attention to the culture of students from around the world. You’re one of them and it’s wonderful.

  4. Douglas says:

    Thank you for that. There are times when I think I am the only one who is intrigued by the quirks of letter, and letter combination, sounds by those who have English as a second language. It is fascinating to hear and it says quite a bit about language formation if you think about it.

  5. Cheri Block Sabraw says:

    I hope all of my readers visit your blog.Talk about an education. I enjoy it daily, sometimes thrice daily.

    Like special education teachers, ESL teachers must have a true love of people, right?


  6. jwong says:

    Thanks for reminding me why I love people from all the world. There is so much to learn out there. I am reminded that people from all backgrounds and different walks of life provide a vital source to our cultural learning process.

  7. Cheri Block Sabraw says:

    Ms. Wong,
    Your key word here is vital.Thanks for your comment to this blog. Most people here in California are tolerant of others; without my friendships with say, the Chinese community, I might never have read Lao Tzu or tasted Dimm Sum (sp?).Without my contact with the Indian community I would not have three gorgeous Indian tunics in my closet, have read Sri Aribindo, or started cooking Indian food. It’s all good.

    And, to turn the conversation a bit, if one were to read Andreas Kluth’s latest post (see above to access his blog), one would learn that most people, in times of uncertainty, expect bad to happen. As I have written about before, practice Expecting Good. Just that little shift in point of view can change the day.

  8. Chourou says:

    So you have jumped into the sea of diversity of the world as a teacher! Yes, we are all livng in the era of pluralism, so to speak. Everything is giving some affect each other, and that will constantly change the whole world. That would be an important point to think about this world.
    Anyway, you posted a good story again. I reeeeeally appreciated it! 🙂

  9. Wendy says:

    I live in a place that has basically NO cultural variety (unless you count Bubba and non-Bubba). It’s so much easier to create an environment of tolerance and acceptance when you can have a PERSONAL experience with people from different countries. Unfortunately most of the kids raised here don’t have that opportunity. I wish it were different.

    Nice post. You create great imagery!

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