Thursday, October 1, 2009

the rosalba stone.

Today, for the first time-- despite my semester of duty as a philosophy TA, despite my countless hours babysitting, and despite my years as 3rd grade "teacher" with old textbooks in my basement as a child-- today, I finally felt like something of a real teacher.

Part of my job as Program Coordinator for a small Augustinian non-profit in Philly is devoted to English as a Second Language classes. I don't do much; I simply show up for ninety minutes, morning and night on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at an empty room at St. Rita of Cascia church in South Philadelphia. There, I oversee as many as six non-native English speakers who wish to refine their grammar, speaking, and writing skills, using Rosetta Stone. I can't tell you how many times I've sat and listened to What are you doing?, There are sixteen blue flowers, and Yes, I am looking for some money during that time. The phrases that the developers at Rosetta Stone have chosen to educate non-anglophones force me sometimes to question the great praise the program has received. How often is a woman from Colombia going to need to say My parents are from China, but I speak English?

Regardless, I was nervous to dive into this position at first, as my pitiful Spanish was limited to hola and como esta. My chosen language was French in high school and college, and though it's served me well, I am now witnessing the evidence that supports the "But why take French when Spanish will be much more useful?" argument.

The students in my classes caught on quite quickly that I had barely a lick of their native language (though not all are Hispanic-- we also have one Vietnamese woman and one from Indonesia). And so, kindly, a student named Rosalba has offered to instruct me in half hour increments before our regular ESL classes begin on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. She proudly brought in her "Spanish for Beginners" picture book donated by her grandkids from Colombia, and so this is how I find myself twice a week at 10:00 in the morning. She's patient with me, and like my very own Rosetta Stone-- or better yet, my Rosalba Stone-- most of the phrases I learn aren't exactly useful (such as, "The children watch the duck swim in the water inside the red bathtub"), but I'm glad to have exposure to the language nonetheless.

Today, Rosalba was waiting for me when I ran into the room, ten minutes late after a heinously long wait to deposit a check at the bank. She had next to her a black plastic bag, and offered me its contents: two gorgeous tiny apples, looking like they had just fallen from an equally gorgeous apple tree.

But I wasn't allowed to have them until the correctly pronounced phrase dos manzanas crossed my lips, and with that, I was given the apples and initiated as la profesora. And those thirty minutes with my Rosalba Stone have already shown me the importance of good, solid relationships with any sort of student. It's these days I hope to tuck away and take with me when I go to South Africa in just three months.

Photo courtesy of Ivan M, / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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