Bringing languages into my community takes more work than it does at the Wellstone International High School that I spoke of in an earlier post. Fortunately, the ELL (English Language Learners) coordinator organized last week an event, “Many Languages, One District,” for a local school district. I loved attending and talking with so many different people in and about multiple languages.
Stations were set up around the perimeter of the room, with a different language at each. In addition, one could see on name tags other languages represented. The variety of languages was great, and I appreciated that half of them did not come from Europe. Here’s what I remember seeing:
Russian and Somali
We had to put the languages we spoke on our name tags, so I had an eagle-eye out. I got to speak a bit of Somali and a lot of Russian. I got my food and sat down with some Somali folks. The gentleman I was sitting with has four children, a little bit younger than mine.
A white-haired grandfather of some young boys at the school was there, and when I saw “Ivan” had Russian down, I literally jumped up to talk to him.
Such nostalgia came over me as we were talking so closely I could feel his breath. One big difference between Russians and Americans is personal space. When noise gets louder, Americans get louder, but Russians get closer. Because of the noise in the room my ear was getting close to his face, while he emphasized his points by patting my forearm.
I was so grateful for this event. It is important to me to recognize the work that goes into organizing so many people, advertising, and setting up and breaking down. The acts were fun to watch. Of course, I had a great time speaking in different languages.
Two things were lacking, however, in my opinion. First, most of the kids were under 13 years old. What this says to me is that students went with their parents; students were not coming on their own.
Second, most of the kids were immigrants or children of immigrants. I wonder if people came more to represent languages than learn about languages.
Most importantly this event—the second annual—brought a spotlight onto languages in a community where one does not think or talk much about different languages. This fact made me the most excited. It’s the first step to bringing multilingualism out of homes and into the public square.
Next time I hope we can have more older kids and more monolinguals in attendance. I would love to see speakers of all different languages interacting with each other. And, naturally, I’d like to see more languages represented. More folks in our community need to see how complex our multilingual community is.