Do you speak English?
I ask this question all the time nowadays. Mostly when calling parents. Of course, they say no, so I tell them “Hablo poquito espanol” (I speak a little Spanish) and try to get my point across in my limited Spanish. And “poquito” typically means nothing as these parents start talking 50 miles a minute in the low-context, high-anxiety situation of talking on the phone in another language. Phew!
All that said, I have communicated more with parents this year than I have in a long time. Many of the parents come to school for events or for picking up children, so I have gotten to put faces with names in a lot of cases, and I actually feel like I am making friends with a few of the parents.
Tonight we had an ice cream social at my school, and I spent the entire time talking (in Spanish) to parents! Some comments I heard:
I’ve been here nine years and still can’t speak much English. I want to take English classes, but I work all day, and then I have the children at night.
I don’t speak or read much English, but I want to help my child. How can I help him succeed in school?
I didn’t like my ELL classes when I was in school, but it is important for my son to be in ELL so he can learn English.
How is my child doing in school?
Many of these parents truly care about their kids’ education but feel unable to help them with English. I also think parents feel like they can’t communicate with their kids’ teachers. It’s good that I’m here now to help with that, and I feel very good about my roles at my new school. (I think I’ve realized that I’m an elementary teacher at heart, too.)
Nevertheless, my Spanish is still sub-par. Part of the problem is that Spanish has so many verb endings while English only has one: add s for the singular third person. So whenever I’m speaking Spanish, in my head I’m envisioning all the conjugations I did back in high school! Two columns, one for singular and one for plural:
Yo hablo (I speak) Nosotros hablamos (we speak)
Tu hablas (You speak) Vosotros hablais (Plural you speak)
El/Ella habla (He/she speaks) Ellos/Ellas hablan (They speak)
And that’s just present tense! Past, present, etc, have their own conjugations! I think a trip to the bookstore for a Spanish tutorial book is in order!
I also wish that there were better ways for immigrants to learn English. The government wants them to learn English and most Americans want them to learn English. However, most of them have to start jobs right when they get here, and if there are children involved, there may be no time to take classes or even no money for classes. I applaud churches and community organizations that offer free or inexpensive English classes. But that’s not enough.
I once had a dream of opening a center for immigrants that would offer English classes, homework help for students, acculturation classes, job placement services, and relocation/housing services for immigrants. This center would also offer custom English classes to businesses in the community that employ high numbers of immigrants. In addition, this center would offer other language classes to Americans as well as having multicultural events/celebrations for the community in order to build bridges between Americans and immigrants. Maybe one day . . .