I am an in class tutor for my community college’s ESOL program. I’m currently working with a level one class. As the name suggests, these are the newbiest of the newbs when it comes to speaking English, most of them have immigrated within the past year. There are the expected Latin American and Asian ethnic groups; however there are also some more surprising ones such as Arabic and Eastern European. The average age somewhat surprised me as well, most people are in their mid to late 30’s. Now the amount that I am actually able to successfully converse with these people is very limited, their knowledge of English is about as basic as it gets. It’s often frustrating for them, I can see that they’re all fairly intelligent individuals but they’re been reduced to the simplest of phrases and speech patterns. In a way it’s like being a child all over again which I’m fairly sure is not the best feeling in the world.
Anyway, I’ve been doing this for several terms now and I find it very enjoyable. It’s quite a feeling to watch someone learn something new week by week. I’ve also come to realize what an absolute bitch of a language English is. English is retardedly hard. After spending time with people who are learning it I’ve come to realize how lucky I am to have it as a native language (lucky in the sense that English is one of the most spoken languages worldwide). I’m not going to delve into the details of why English is bad but I will offer one brief example, the current class is learning the Simple Present case. I had no idea what cases English had, if any, until I sat through the class (I’m sure any English majors reading this are howling in disbelief/anger by now). Aside from the cases, English has so many exceptions to its spelling rules that I just stopped keeping track once I remembered that I already knew the language. For comparison, I’m learning Russian. Russian is a case based language (English is as well in theory but time and cultural influence have reduced the importance of case) and each case has its own set of rules. Obviously each rule has several exceptions but unlike English, where a rule means you’ll be dealing with an exception about 50% of the time (scientifically accurate figure proved through guestimation), Russian rules are actually rules and it’s genuinely rare to find an exception (at least when compared to English).
All of this combines to give me immense respect for the people in this class. The majority of them left a fairly stable situation in their home country to come to America. At the beginning of each term, the new students would talk about their former homes and I’m always struck by how many of them had jobs, families, and fairly decent lives where they came from. And yet for them America meant more opportunity. So at 30+ (and sometimes waaaaay older), they packed up their lives and changed countries. To me, this takes immense courage. My first term I met a 78 year old Russian man who had come here with his wife because he thought things would be better. I was shocked to be honest. The situation he and his wife were living in back in Russia was not bad at all. He had a house, a job, and family members close to him. But for this 78 year old Russian (who keep in mind was told for a significant portion of his life that America was evil) chose to come here because he thought he’d live a better life. At 78 he decides this! Quite frankly I admire him. When I’m his age I doubt I’d be able to simply trust in the promise of another country and pick up everything for a shot at something better. At 21 maybe if the opportunity presented itself. But at 78 forget about it.
I’m not always proud of the actions of my country, and as of the past decade I’ve generally had more to be ashamed of then boastful of. But the fact that people all over the world and of any age are still coming here does give me a small touch of pride. At the same time, I’m struck by the genuine courage of these people. These aren’t the immigrants of Elis Island, who came seeking a better life but would often be leaving a life that wasn’t worth living anyway. These people who I tutor actually have something to lose back home. Not to say that there wasn’t risk for the Elis Island immigrants, there was but it’s a different kind of risk. The earlier immigrants (and the poorer illegal immigrants today) don’t really have anything to lose by coming here. On the other hand, a 78 year old Russian man in 2010 is literally losing a way of life he’s been part of since most TLer’s grandparents were born.
I’m impressed and proud of all the people I tutor. For one, they’re learning our language which is more than can be said for many immigrants these days. For another they’re doing it older in life as well. It’s been shown that as you get older it’s harder to learn new languages and yet these people are toughing it out. And finally I think they’re all pretty brave for uprooting their lives which they’ve lived for often times double my age and moving here simply because of what we promise namely opportunity, equality, and freedom.
Well dear reader I hope you made it (yes I know I love my parentheses). Stay well TL <3