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The power of language

Posted by sebastianbrown on November 19, 2009

The group saying "Inglessss"

After the first unofficial meeting of the Nob Hill unemployment support circle last Wednesday, we met again, this time with a focus on the value of being able to speak English. Joining the seven Nob Hill residents were Rachel, the Executive Director from Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL) and Mary-Anne, the head of the MCAEL-sponsored ESOL classes offered at Silver Spring International Middle School.

Rosario explaining what it's like at work to not speak English

But before we got in to the heavier portion of the meeting, it was only appropriate to bust out the cake and bubbly…to celebrate Martin’s finding a job on a demolition site nearby. If you don’t remember, Martin was the young man who, at both the Neighbors Exchange and the previous week’s support group’s meeting, shared the heartbreaking story of having a two week-old baby who he feared he couldn’t support as long as he remained jobless. As Martin explained last night, while the job he has now is temporary and wasn’t a direct result from any of our meetings, what the group has provided him is boosted morale and a sense of purpose. Community is a wonderful thing!

The kids ready to go home...or pose for more pics (Winta...)

But after we put away the chocolate cake and non-alcoholic champagne, it was time to get down to business. Group members told story after story of being subject to discrimination at the work place because of their limited English. Melvis said his construction site manager regular calls one of Melvis’ non-English speaking colleagues “stupid” to his face. His wife Rosario then told of how her and the other non-English speaking Latinos feel under-appreciated and ignored on a daily basis. Tina mentioned how she feels that in general her English-speaking co-workers get away with working less, while still earning more than the average non-English speaker. Everyone in the group agreed.

Obviously, there was a desire to take the next step toward becoming more proficient in basic English. Mary Anne explained in detail how group members could go about signing up for the ESOL class at Silver Spring International Middle, even passing around a waiting list that each group member signed up on. However, Mary warned that because of the recent rise in interest ever since the program started offering childcare last year, in reality, the chance that all or even any of the group members would be admitted in to a class was slim to none. That’s when the group kicked into action.

Mary-Ann, sitting next to Tina, speaks to the group

It started with IMPACT Long Branch Coordinator Ray proposing that we, with Mary and Rachel’s help, create our very own ESOL class. Group member Martin then asked if maybe we could use the Nob Hill YMCA center space, including its 5 computers. After agreeing that we should look into that possibility, the group came up with the idea that as a short-term step we could invite Mary-Anne to proctor the official ESOL placement exam at a future meeting. Immediately, Mary-Anne and group members agreed to setting the exam date for two Wednesday’s from now, Dec. 2, once again at the Nob Hill YMCA Center (where we were last night).

It’s amazing to see the group grow closer together each week, with individual members developing the confidence to speak their minds, really making these their meetings. In this vein, we hope to encourage the members themselves to rotate on a weekly basis sharing facilitating/agenda setting responsibilities.


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