I now have the most interesting and challenging class of my teaching career. At night I am teaching 5 Somalian students who cannot read or write. I am not versed in literacy education but I am learning fast. The hardest thing to do when teaching ESL to students who can't speak a lick is to go so s-l-o-w t-h-a-t y-o-u f-o-r-g-e-t h-o-w t-o s-p-e-a-k English yourself. If they can't understand you then you are all alone in the classroom. Comprehensible input is the key. In fact, I go so slow with these students that I have a hard time speaking with native speakers after I am finished; my friends asking me why I am flailing my arms and slobbering when I meet them after night classes for a drink. (After I teach advanced classes I cannot think of the actual word for anything, only the definitions for the words I would like to say.)
The 5 Somalian students are older learners, 50/60 years old I assume, and they aren't as fortunate and Arabic speakers, whose accent translates well into English, Spanish speaking students, whose alphabet and expose to English makes it easier on them, or even my Asian students, who have a knack for learning and who study more than I ever have. I guess I understand the culture, as much as this gringo can without ever going to Somalia, and I at least know about the pirates (who has pirates?) and that besides Eritrea it is the only country without a functioning government.
My students remind me of the beginning of humanity. They're from the cradle of civilization, and I can imagine that life has changed quite a bit since the beginning, but I also imagine that it has changed less for them than it has for anyone who is able to read this post.
They strictly follow Islam, they take an unsanctioned break at sundown to pray and they ask for help with the soda and snack machines. (The next lesson is on the value of money.) Islam is something I had to learn to understand because I was somewhat naive and uneducated about it before working here. There is a big difference between Saudi Arabia and Somalia when it comes to religion. In fact, the dumbed down version of course, is that there is a big difference between Saudi Arabia and every other Muslim nation.
Blah! I do not want this to turn into anything political or religilous! But the different headscarves and women's dress is IMPOSSIBLE not to mention. And the prayer breaks...