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May 19, 2006


Fran B. Reed

Writing By R & D
Fran B. Reed, MPH, author 4 books, articles, teacher, translator
Ss# 684-82-8006
239 Beach City # 2113
Hilton Head, SC 29926
1-(843)- 6899258

“You Can’t Just Wave a Magic Wand and Everyone Talks English”

If you were visiting in France, and they passed a law that all visitors had to speak French in a month, you might have trouble getting out the “Parlez vous’s” in that time, but even more of a problem understanding people who answered you with a barrage of rapid French. Multiply that challenge with the one of requiring everyone who works here to speak English, and you might understand the problem.
The first difficulty is that most people who leave homes and families to take a risk coming here have very little education in their own country. If they had a high education, naturally they’d get a good job and stay home. Most people who come here have gone to a rural school for a couple grades of primary education. Then they helped out on the farm, waiting until they were fifteen or sixteen and could travel North, since the lack of water makes earning a real living for a family on a farm almost impossible. In those few years of schooling they had good backgrounds in math. They can compute almost any equation in their heads, but they certainly never had English lessons. English lessons are taught sporadically in some high schools Those who really learn to speak the language, like doctors, hotel owners, and factory managers go for private lessons which can cost up to $600. a day. I taught small groups of doctors and supervisors in Mexico and South America for somewhat less.

In the U.S., I have taught English-As-A-Second-Language in the U.S. to working adults from around the world for half a century. They are all eager to learn, but because of their limited education, they are very shy to say the words out loud. Also, some from Central America have never been to school at all and barely know how to hold a pencil. For adults to stand up in class and make what they considers fools of themselves saying strange sounds, returning to feeling like little children, takes great courage. Perhaps you have felt the same way trying out new words in a Spanish class or traveling to Mexico. “Yo- agua- por favor or whatever.” When you learn a language after age 13, as I learned Spanish, it is stored in a different part of the brain, and doesn’t flow as easily as if you learned it at four.
This is only one of the many obstacles. Naturally, they come here to work, and many hold two jobs, leaving home at 5 AM and returning at midnight. Stopping for English classes would defeat the purpose of the journey. Few schools offer classes on weekends, and many workers are on the job on Saturday and in church on Sunday. The hours don’t compute.
Add to this the fact that for years they have been denied drivers’ licenses. They might have risked going to jail driving to work to feed their children, but they were less likely to take the risk for classes. Also, for classes, they often had to go into a different part of town and talk to strangers, and when there were people wanting to turn them in for having to arrive without papers, traveling anywhere new was risky.

Also, when they might be sent back home any second, they had less incentive. These three problems should be eliminated.
Despite all this, I have always had eager students all over the U.S. In California they used to stand in line from four in the morning to gain one of the few places
in the over-crowded classes. I have taught as many as 100 students in one room,
reciting conversations in groups back and forth to each other, and then pairing off for one-on-one practice, but , of course, in an ideal setting there would be only about twelve students, all sitting in a circle, all talking to each other.
The first step is to give them confidence. I always say that when fear goes out the door, English can come in. I try to teach them conversations they can use right away. “Where’s the hammer?” “How many towels do you need?” Sometimes I use little chocolates to sweeten the taste of a new language and give them an incentive to roll their tongues around new sounds. In hotels where I taught the housekeepers, we had graduation ceremonies and diplomas, a life-time first, for those who could understand enough words to bring what the guest ordered.
Before they had simply carried signs, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Please call the manager.” Then came English. In my class they would practice taking turns in the roles. One would be the guests, with many giggles and blushing and the other would be the housekeeper. “Two pillows, please.” came the timid request.
“Yes, m’am, came the grinning reply. If the housekeeper went to the table and came back with exactly two pillows, the class would applaud. Because I speak

English with a Kentuckian accent, I always wanted them to hear different versions of English. I’d have them order pizzas, when possible walk as a group to a store to make a small purchase or to the library for a card. Also, I had them
call on the phone to ask the time of Amtrak train trips or airline reservations.
That gave them a variety of accents. Then each would write their time and compare
times. If you see someone struggle with English, you can help them along, too.
Before the class, if the phone rang at home, they would usually just say, “No English,” and hang up. After my class, they would try to make themselves understood. However, if you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you know that all of this takes time. I’ve also taught ESL in public schools, but there the students are not worried about bills and jobs. They concentrate just on learning. The parents take time, if they have the hours to give and classes to attend. Not every town has classes. A hundred years ago when immigrants came, the children were who learned English, and they translated for their parents. I’ve heard people say, “My grandmother spoke only German or Dutch or whatever.” We have to create thousands more classes at all hours of the day and night with patient teachers if we are requiring an English-only society and forget the magic wands. While they are learning, we can’t get mad if they can’t make themselves understood at first in an emergency room or a store. My mother had a stroke visiting Norway at age 70. The doctors didn’t require she talk to them in Norwegian. They gave her excellent care anyway. Let’s be patient with our neighbors. They’ll learn English. -30-

Frank Bowers

I feel as if the averqage Texan and American citizeb is being taken advantage of by a few politicians who rather have one more possible vote rather than demanding our schools quit teaching ESL or requiring the children of illegal immirgrants to pay out of state fees and then chargking them extra of and to be taught English. It is not the taxs payors responsibility to teach ever foreign illegal how to speak English. Now at the DOT here in Texas they vcan get their license questions in English HOW WRONE they need to speak and be spoken to in English or go back to where ever they came. Thuis is to Fran Reed, You get paid for what yhou do I do not but I am forced to pay higher taxes so another illegal can get a free education on my dime. Regardless of what their American Accent my be; it is English and not some foreigh language.Frank Bowers,Austin, TX

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