This is not an English class.

“The heart speaks the same language everywhere”

31 Mar 2011

30th March 2011

Ardavan Roozbeh / Radio Koocheh

Translated by Avideh Motmaen-Far

When we hear the name of a ”class”, it reminds us of tiredness and repeat. The heavy atmosphere  and academic teachers who have to check the homework and expect you to sit anxiously and wait your turn. At least, it was for me. To me, school meant a heavy and spiritless classroom and university a series of text books. In other trainings such as the second language course also the same atmosphere governed. I have seen many of those who have attended classes and forgot most of their little learnings in these kind of disturbing anxiety.

Totally by chance, I came across a different class in the “Bethesda” library, in Maryland, America  that is, in my opinion, another level of training. In this Library, people gather two days a week and few teachers teach, not the formal English training but the conversation. It is called ”English Conversation Club”. You sit there, and write your name and the country where you are from on a piece of paper and take turn to introduce yourself.

I, May, from Taiwan.

I, Ali, from Iran.

I, Schalke, from Bulgaria.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, those who are interested, just gather in the front hall of the library. No one has to register. There is no fee because teachers work on a charity based program.  There are a few tables and at each table seven or eight people from around the globe. Here is another type of class. Some hardly speak English and some speak better with Turkish or Chinese accent, but everybody understands each other very well.

It is a good opportunity for everyone to become familiar with each other, different nationalities with different customs and traditions. The point is for teachers and students do have a friendly relationship. This is a conversation club. “Karmela Cousin “, is the teacher or to quote herself, the coordinator of one of these tables. Ms. Cousin says:

“If I want to talk about these classes summarily, I have to say that this is a project that most libraries run and we are one of them. In this assembly that is about meeting each other, we spend more time to dialogue. This is not an English class because in an English class, grammar and writing is taught. Here, there is a good opportunity for people to speak with each other and share their learnings about a topic that is chosen in order to learn things from each other. All teachers work as volunteers in this program. Our work is essentially charity. I hope you enjoy this gathering and meet new people. This is an opportunity to connect with other people. “

The class lasts two hours, until 3 PM. But the program continues in a café close to the library. All together we put chairs and tables aside, the Hall becomes clean and neat and people on their way to the café.

Two blocks north from the library, in a café, we get all together. This time, it is even less formal. Everybody eagerly asks questions about age, work, why you are in America and how you cope with your new environment. A Japanese lady has come to US with her husband who has a two-year training here. A French young man is his friend’s guest for six months here and came to the club to learn English. Another person whose husband is an employee and another man whose son is a Medical Doctor living in America who has come here to visit his grand children. A lady from “Madagascar” says that she lost her husband years ago and feels that she can replace the feeling of loss by communicating with others. So she learns how to speak with others.

But perhaps in this group, meeting a lady from Bulgaria, “Schalke” is the most pleasant to me.  She is Armenian and nearly eighty years old. Full of energy, she is happy to be able to speak English. Within minutes, she shares the sweets she has baked herself with me and another person. A cake tasting cheese and sugar.

“I’m Schalke Balabanian. From Bulgaria. I am very happy here, because here in this library people come to learn English. Nice people from the four corner of the world. From “Chile”, “Argentina”, “Iran”, “Bulgaria”, “Korea”, “China” and “Japan” and this is all charity, and is really amazing. Here, in this class, there is love between us. “

She does not seem to be old. She is so full of energy that when she talks about her childhood memories you might think that she talks about her parents memories. Her son lives in US and she has come over too. She talks very kindly of the teacher and students.

The atmosphere gets warm, everybody talks about something and for a moment loneliness becomes almost a memory. The teacher, like all the others craves talking. A Canadian lady who does not look older than forty, but from the pictures of her 25 year old daughter you understand that she should be undoubtedly older. She talks about her motivations. What brought her to participate in these classes. She is familiar with three languages, French, English and Spanish. She works as a volunteer in these classes. I think that the feeling of being helpful has kept her young.

It is seven o’clock now and it is almost four hours that I have been sinking in these conversations. It is one of the students birthday. A chinese lady. She says happily that she would not reveal her age but every one sang the birthday song in her own language for her. She said that was the best gift for her birthday. No one expects anything and every one pays for their coffee, thanks others, says goodbye and leaves. The class is over but I felt its lovely green energy for hours.

Stepping down the stairs to the Bethesda subway station, I thought by myself that:

”students would gladly give up their holidays, to listen to the teachings of an admirable educator.”


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