El Buen Pastor Latino Community Services
Monday, December 09, 2013
Language Learning Partners
Mastering a new language as an adult is a monumental task. There is no path to fluency that doesn’t involve endless hours of repetitive practice, as English-learner Luis Bello and Spanish student Jean Sohmer can testify. Although you wouldn’t know it to look at them, Luis and Jean have much in common. Both grew up in “the sticks”—Jean in Franklinville in eastern North Carolina, and Luis in a tiny village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Both have too much time on their hands because of unwelcome circumstances—Luis’ weekly chemotherapy keeps him from employment, and Jean became a widow three years ago. Both fill their days by volunteering at El Buen Pastor for 15 or 20 hours a week—Luis works on grounds and building upkeep and helps with the tutoring program, while Jean leads adult activities in the parent-child program and helps with preschool.
This spring they are helping each other learn a new language, scheduling sessions around their volunteer duties and Luis’ treatments. They take turns reading aloud, patiently giving and receiving coaching on pronunciation. Vowel sounds are the most difficult for each of them, especially the “a” and “e” sounds, which are flipped for the two languages. Luis and Jean appreciate the lack of pressure and the freedom to make mistakes in their shared learning experience. Only a couple of times have they gotten completely stuck in their conversation, one not being able to understand what the other was talking about, and they resolved those stalemates with an on-line translation tool.
Like iron sharpening iron, practicing with a friend in a safe place has given them the confidence to try their second language with others.