As I grow older, it’s often startling to realize just how different I am from others sometimes.
For example, it took me the longest time to come to terms with the fact that some people prefer tea over coffee. It seemed inexplicable, a likely result of ignorance or insanity. From my limited worldview, it was just a given that coffee was better (I’ve grown quite a bit, and now occasionally enjoy a cup of Kenyan tea when I can).
These last couple of years I have again and again been forced to come to terms with the fact that people here are so different from me, or anyone from America!
For example, we have spent almost two years learning to speak a language that is basically only spoken on this small island! Many of the locals have learned French and a few have learned English, but VERY VERY few outsiders have ever endeavored to learn the local language here!
Moreover, the island language is not a written language! In other words, none of the locals ever sat through “Islandish 101” or “Islandish Grammar” or competed in an “Islandish Spelling Bee”. Even well educated and literate people find it difficult and are very slow to read and write their own language!
In fact, if you ask most anyone here, they’ll tell you that their language doesn’t have a grammar and that trying to figure out one is silly! You just have to memorize everything. Of course, this makes things quite frustrating when you’re trying to get your friends to explain the finer points of Islandish grammar (at times enough so to pull out your hair!).
Even if you only look at this one single difference, the result is that people’s lives and the ways that they think here are unlike from anything I’ve ever understood before.
Can you imagine what life would be like if English was not a written language? Seriously. Stop for a second and think about it! No English books, no English webpages, etc. What if you only spoke English to your friends and family, but learned French or another language in schools?
Or, what if things were too hard at home and so you dropped out of class so that you could work the fields to provide for your family?
As you might imagine, illiteracy is very common here.
I started teaching English again this past week. I love teaching English. I have so far been able to refuse to teach anything but the level 1 introductory classes, and I do so because I LOVE getting the new students who are so shy and intimidated by the idea of learning a foreign language. Learning and knowledge are incredible gifts, and it is wonderful to be able to encourage the students to learn something new.
And so, this week, I noticed that one of my students is probably very illiterate. Adam always sits at the back, only mumbles when asked questions, and otherwise stares at the floor, remaining perfectly quiet.
It can sometimes be hard on a teacher to have a student that is clearly behind the rest of the students. It’s easier to assume that it’s their fault, that they just need to study more, or that they should be more bold to ask questions and get help. It’s hard to understand why someone would sign up for an English class, but not put in the effort to learn anything.
But, I’ll have you know, when I slow down and find time to work with him and see him begin to understand, a huge flash of a smile lights across his face, and it makes my day.