It is deeply satisfying to hear multilingual conversations floating around the Senior Center as the Spanish class dismisses every Tuesday.
During the 24 years we lived in Asia, our children attended international schools with students from many different countries. We couldn’t walk through the hallways without more than a dozen languages swirling around us. Most of the kids from Europe arrived there already fluent in French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch, and most of them studied Korean, Chinese, Japanese, or Tagalog during the years of their stay. My daughter’s cheerleading squad counted off a series of pre-game stretches in English, Korean, Chinese, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish, German, and any other tongue represented within the group. Hearing a variety of accents and dialects became the norm in our lives.
One of the culture shocks we experienced on our return to the States was the sudden immersion in a largely monolingual society. Going all day without hearing anything but English felt strange to us. At times we’d turn to a foreign language TV channel just to feel more at home in our new environment. My husband and I still lapse into Korean occasionally for some variety.
Now, an interesting phenomenon is taking place within our Senior Center’s weekly Spanish class taught by board member Patricia Luna. A few Spanish-speaking English learners have begun attending. While the other students practice their Spanish, the new ladies are learning English and both groups are helping each other with pronunciation, sentence structure and vocabulary.
Afterwards, it’s common to hear conversations in both languages as the students sit around the dining room tables debriefing the lessons or just chatting. Listening from my office, I find myself smiling in satisfaction. This is my comfort zone.
There are other types of learning going on at the Senior Center these days. At 2 every Wednesday afternoon, staff member Rosette Sutton is drawing on her experience as a home-schooling mom to teach a Literacy class for people who want to strengthen their English reading and writing skills. The class is open to anyone who’d like to join.