Tuesday, February 06, 2007
A Lesson in Humility
Once a week, I volunteer for a couple of hours at the Adult Education ESL Literacy Lab. The experience has been more than enlightening if not downright shocking. Most of the students are from Africa, whether it be the Sudan or Somalia. The others are from a variety of places throughout the world.
This week, I was going about my business as usual in the lab when a new student joined us. I helped get her started with the lab by showing her how to use the program and assigning her a story to read. She was a very small yet striking woman with lovely warm features. She called me over to help with one of the words from her story. She asked me what "proudly" meant. I went on to give her this elaborate and unhelpful description to the best of my abilities when I decided to use the dictionary (I'm still working on how to explain what words mean). I pulled out the dictionary and showed her how to use it for future reference. I've found using your hands and images helps describe words better, which was the case here (the dictionaries have pictures). After she finally understood what "proudly" meant, I told her it might be helpful to buy an English dictionary in her own language then, I inquired what her native language was. She told me, but she said she didn't even know her own language so the dictionary would not be useful. Shocked, puzzled, and deeply humbled, I looked at her. SHE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HER NATIVE LANGUAGE. I realized of course she didn't know her own language, she wasn't born in a country where women are allowed to read and write. Can you imagine not knowing your own language? Can you imagine not knowing your own language, but attempting to learn a second language, one of the most difficult, anyway? She is brave in a way most of us never will have to be.
How much do we take for granted...