Backround of a Language Learner
Nazrahdin (Nas) moved from his native Algiers to the United States in a quest to gain live a better life and to be able to make enough money to send some back to his family each month. His uncle Talib has lived in America for seven years and was the main reason Nas made the move. Nas is currently working as a valet attendant at a hotel.
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His language proficiency is quite high. He is fully bilingual with Arabic and French and he can also understand a bit of Spanish. His English abilities are elementary.
That being said, when speaking with him he is quite effective at communicating his ideas through non-verbal methods and patience. He is eager and willing to be taught and he always has questions to ask. Currently his uncle and aunt are the main sources of information and teaching when it comes to English. At work Nas does not interact with customers, except when absolutely necessary. He is not comfortable enough with the language and his coworkers do not want him to converse with customers due to his limitations with English.
For this reason Nas is beginning to read and listen to English lessons in an attempt to gain fluency. He wants to become comfortable enough with the language within the next six months so as to be able to interview for a public transportation job through the city. He did not have to interview for the valet position because his uncle worked him into the job. With his enthusiasm and track record of learning other languages, his goal is well within reach.
When I interviewed Nas and asked him about what his ultimate goal is, he replied, “Really I want money for family that I work for so I can buy me a home here to live. ” His ideas come across quite clearly and the thing I noticed most about this statement was not the broken grammar, but the clarity of though and the seriousness with which he delivered his ambition. He maintains eye contact and uses his hands to emphasize his points. I notice his non-verbal connotations almost more than his verbal cues, especially when he is speaking in Arabic with Talib.
They are both very animated and outgoing and their arms are in constant motion when they are speaking. They also use intonation to great effect so that even though I do not understand a word of Arabic, I can fairly accurately gauge the tones and attitude of what they are talking about. In this way, I think the main goals that we will work for in our English lessons will be to translate that non-verbal communication into everyday expressions in English. Nas, at least at this point, is not interested in the finer details of grammar and lexicon.
What he most wants is to ‘tell a good joke that people smile. ’ He wants to become conversational. He does not need nor want to learn academic rules. He wants to be able to meet a stranger and be able to talk to them. He wants to be able to fulfill his objectives at work. He wants to be able to secure his own job and not to rely on Talib. Mostly, he wants to become more than just a card-carrying American citizen, he wants to exercise his mind and rights through the use of English.
That being said, we will face obstacles in the implementation of this new language because it is not related to the romance languages of French and Spanish and it definitely has little in common with the rhythmic Arabic of his native language. We will begin by integrating cross-cultural themes that draw connections between his life in Algeria and here in the U. S. His mind is already developed and he has been successful in his endeavors up to this point. I do not want to tutor him like I would a younger person.
I think a great way for us to move forward will be to watch television and movies that have similar interests as well as subtitles, whether in Arabic, French, or Spanish. I want to cultivate a multi-disciplinary approach that focuses on getting ideas to translate more than having them be perfectly grammatical, especially considering that most conversational English does not abide by the rules of the book of grammar, even to native speakers. I think we will have greater success in implanting English into Nas’ everyday life because he already has the model of his Uncle Talib.
Talib had learned English in less than a year after moving the America. Like Nas, he had a very limited knowledge of the language beyond a few expressions before moving here. Nas has the added advantage of already holding a job where he is surrounded by native English speakers and Talib. Whenever Nas cannot grasp what we are talking about in English, he and Talib discuss it together in Arabic and then Nas will come back to the discussion and reiterate his opinion.
I am confident that Nas will succeed in his goal to learn English in order to gain full-time employment that utilizes his language skills. He has a positive example to base his optimism and he is one of the most fearless non-native English speakers I have met when it comes to trying to speak in a language you are not fluent in. The fact that he will continue to ask questions, to continue to make mistakes and to continue applying himself is an accomplishment unto itself and yet he does not cut corners. This makes the tutoring process not only easier, but much more enriching for all involved parties.