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.
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.
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”