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Posts Tagged ‘ESL’

 

On the final day of the ESL series, I’m happy to share a picture of the Chicago students meeting on Zoom (a few were absent).  What a wonderful group! I thank each one of them for sharing their stories, hopes and struggles openly and honestly. You’ve given me (and surely my readers) cause for reflection and inspiration. Thanks also to my big sister Ceci for collaborating on this project and for being a great teacher to her students and, as ever, to me.

 

Merci, gracias, 감사합니다, Спасибо, ありがとうございました, 谢谢. (Apologies if my translation is off!)

 

 

*

  

Lin

 by Lin from China

 

My Chinese isn’t enough.

I remember how I was happy

staying with my friends,

enjoying each time we got together,

the same values, same hobbies, same goals.

 

好朋友志在四方**

 

But that was in China.

Now I am in America.

And I’m learning English.

Back at my hometown

my friends attend a variety of events,

hang with one another.

But I stayed at my new home and felt dumb, alone.

I registered for many classes to learn more.

My husband always encourages me.

He said, you’re excellent!

Follow your heart!

I’m more confident now,

Inspired by Chicken Soup words,

Inspired by the understanding of my friends,

my parents, my tutors.

So, I am getting used to living in America

I push myself to walk out to face the challenge,

to be positive.

For if I stop trying, I will be depressed

when my friends need my ideas.

 

** Chinese for “Good friends are pursuing their ideain different places.”

 

 

*

 

 

Jenny

by Jenny from Korea

 

My Korean isn’t good enough,

I remember how I’d grin

Listening to my little one,

Her jokes, her whines, her tricks.

Teasing each other

 

*엄마가어른이니까어린이인나랑놀아줘야지. 안그래?

 

But that was in Korea.

Now my daughter goes to an American high school.

She chats in English. At night she Face-Times with friends, laughing.

I listen by her door and feel excluded, alone.

I turn on the radio when I drive, I turn on the radio when I cook,

My husband laughs at my accent.

I’m embarrassed at not understanding what others say,

Sometimes I read the Bible line-by-line, recording my voice and listening and listening again.

Repeating again and again.

For if I stop trying, I will be deaf

When my grandchildren need my help.

 

Korean for, “Mom, since you are an adult, you are supposed to play with me, aren’t you?”

 

*

 

Natalia

by Natalia from The Ukraine

 

My Ukrainian isn’t enough.

I remember how I laughed and chatted with my friends.

I understood their jokes, their songs, their thoughts.

 

            І щоразу це були неймовірні зустрічі!  *

 

But that was in Ukraine.

Now I live in America with my husband and children.

My new friends are here.

They are so different. We speak different languages,

We have different cultures, values and faith . . .

We have different childhood memories.

Often, I do not have enough words to tell about something.

It is difficult to describe my feelings.

I cannot be open with my new friends.

 

I work on my English every day,

I want to remember more new words,

I want to understand more. . .

For if I stop trying, I will be deaf when my friends need my help.

 

*Ukrainian for “Every time it was an incredible meeting.”

 

*

 

Teacher’s Note

These Imitation Poems express the deepest and most profound feelings of my students as they strive to make new roots in a new country with a new language. The poem Elena, by Pat Mora was the inspiration. Writing poetry is an unfamiliar and challenging task for most of us, but writing poems in a second language is even more difficult. I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on challenging their minds and thank them for sharing their personal struggles of learning English while trying to make a new life here as they search for their “second soul.” The poetic images of floating alphabet letters, blurry worlds, birthday songs that are no long uproariously sung, and so many more touch my heart. I am so proud of their  determination and persistence to never stop trying, like Elena.

 

Ceci Greco

 

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Reading these wonderful ESL poems about learning a new language, I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies, Brooklyn, starring the luminous Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant to New York in the 1950s. She’s not learning a new language so much as a new culture. Excited as she is to be starting life in a big city, homesickness colors every experience. I cried my way through the movie. I cried much more than the people I watched the movie with. I could not stop crying even when it was over.

 

I was re-experiencing my own homesickness, you see, after years and years of forgetting I ever had it in the first place. When I was in my late twenties I moved from Maryland to Michigan. The cultural differences between the east coast and the Midwest are not as big as those between Ireland and Brooklyn or between Ecuador and Chicago or between any of the countries these ESL students have emigrated from. But they did exist. Midwesterners were too friendly and enjoyed small talk more than I did, speaking with nasal accents I disliked but eventually adopted. I missed hills and lush greenery and beaches and cities, and most of all, my big Catholic family, which has a culture of its very own. It was the reverse move of the third poem posted today, “Midwesterner” by Mary Gramins, an ESL classroom assistant who participated in the assignment.

 

That’s a long introduction to the fourth installment of this series of imitation poems from Chicago ESL students taught by my sister Ceci. It’s all to say the experience of leaving behind an old life and trying to make a new one is a universal one. It’s much more challenging when language is involved, but homesickness is a country we all visit at some point in our lives.

 

It was Ceci, by the way, who told me the truth about moving. Ceci had re-located years before I did from Maryland to the Midwest. “It’ll take ten years,” she said, “and then it will feel like home.”

 

*

 

Caroline

by Caroline from Columbia

 

My Spanish isn’t enough.

I remember how I used to make jokes to my family and friends,

Making everybody laugh or smile.

 

            Parece Buena idea pero me dices cuando lo vas a hacer para esperar en la esquina *

 

But that was in Colombia

Now I’m here trying hard to understand what people are talking about,

My mind is busy, I don’t have time to make jokes.

Sometimes I’m not even sure if I am listening correctly or I am misunderstanding something.

 

But I keep trying.

I am still studying, listening to people speaking in English

And talking with all the English I know.

Hopefully one day something funny comes up in a conversation,

And people here will smile like my people back home.

 

*Spanish for, “It seems like a good idea but tell me before you start doing it. I’m going to wait on the corner, nothing personal.”

 

*

 

WooYoung

by WooYoung from Korea

 

My Korean is not enough.

I remember how I’d smile playing with my kids

Having fun with badminton, biking, and snow skiing

 

아빠, 조금놀아요!!!!”***

 

But that was in Korea.

Now, my children are graduates of American universities

With their own jobs and social life.

My wife speaks English much better than I.

Still, she often asks my children for better English sentences

 

Once in a restaurant for breakfast the whole family was ordering food.

But I was silent reading the menu because it was unfamiliar.

At last, the waiter asked

“How would you like your eggs cooked today?”  It made me in a daze.

All I knew was fried eggs.

So many choices – sunny-side up, over easy, scrambled, omelets, poached eggs, hard-boiled eggs

That day I chose over-easy eggs.

Next time, I will order sunny-side up in English.

 

*Korean for Daddy, let’s play more!”

 

*

 

Midwesterner

by Mary Gramins from the United States

 

Milwaukee I knew like the back of my hand,

the lakefront, beaches, the downtown with its buildings—all yellow or gray,

orange buses, walking paths, the bridges my grandpa built,

Marquette and my home on the corner Locust and 70th,

and my friends since birth.

We “lived” at each other’s houses on our street lined with elms;

we giggled, laughed and shouted, shared secrets, told stories

and we talked to moms, dads, and grandpas and aunts, the grocer, the druggist, the barber,

the policeman, the stranger and they talked to us.

 

When I married and moved to Washington, DC,

Our glistening capitol filled with buildings so white.

So majestic by day and so breathtaking by night.

A sacred city where leaders and legislators held other people’s lives in their hands

Not just of our citizens but folks from every other land.

 

The government workers at the Bader, our apartment on 25th and K

Looked neither right, nor left, nor at you, and NEVER would talk.

The elevator ride was like life in a tomb. For weeks and weeks. . .

One morning my Midwestern roots emerged

and I said “Good Morning” in my loveliest voice.

Silence, dead silence for eight floors going down. . . .

As we all walked through the lobby and approached the door,

a young man held it and said, “Have a good day.” And I wished him the same.

“I’ve only begun” was the song in my heart as I walked toward the bus that would take me to school.

 

*

 

Teacher’s Note

These Imitation Poems express the deepest and most profound feelings of my students as they strive to make new roots in a new country with a new language. The poem, Elena, by Pat Mora was the inspiration. Writing poetry is an unfamiliar and challenging task for most of us, but writing poems in a second language is even more difficult. I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on challenging their minds and thank them for sharing their personal struggles of learning English while trying to make a new life here as they search for their “second soul.” The poetic images of floating alphabet letters, blurry worlds, birthday songs that are no long uproariously sung, and so many more touch my heart. I am so proud of their  determination and persistence to never stop trying, like Elena.

 

Ceci Greco

 

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another Chicago snow scene for Chicago poets

 

One of the many reasons I’m enjoying the work of the Chicago ESL students featured this week is how their poems shine a light on the potential for community, regardless of background. Here we have people from different countries whose fluency is in different languages connecting on a common struggle and a common goal. Here we have poets from Taiwan, Ecuador, Ukraine, Columbia, Japan, South Korea, and China, a group that in other circumstances might form a veritable Tower of Babel. And yet here they are together here on the page, understanding each other at the deepest level.

 

Today our poets are from Taiwan, France and Ecuador.

 

*

 

Ellen

by Ellen from Taiwan

 

My Chinese isn’t enough

I remember how I would laugh,

Arguing with my close friends,

And understanding the meaning of what they said

Art, classical music, love poetry and the meaning of life.

But that was in Taiwan.

Now I am in the United States,

Everyone speaks English

At the office, I didn’t know any answers to trivia questions they asked.

With neighbors, I don’t get the political problems they argue about.

At movie theaters, I was quiet while everyone laughed out loud.

My husband keeps correcting my pronunciation.

Sometimes at stores the clerks lose patience with me

I became chicken-hearted,

I became wordless,

I became dumb.

I finally took ESL classes.

I have to keep it up.

If I stop learning,

My world would be dark and silent.

 

 *

 

Alexandra

by Alexandra from France

 

My French isn’t good enough.

I remember how I’d discuss

Society, politics, culture.

It was easy then.

 

Qui vivra verra*

 

But that was in France.

Now I have to find my words.

I don’t have enough English

But no matter what,

I improve it through English classes.

 

*French for “Time will tell.”

 

*

 

Nostalgia

by Mabel from Ecuador

 

My Spanish isn’t enough.

I remember how I used to get the whole family together to share time.

 

Está servido y se enfría! Ya vengan a sentarse y siguen conversando mientras comen!” **

 

But that was in Ecuador.

Now it’s just my husband, my children, and I against the world.

We are a very close family standing together at all times,

But Birthdays, Holidays, and special dates are not the same anymore.

Now, they are more intimate, just us

The Happy Birthday song no longer sounds as uproariously as it used to.

 

However, we are very happy.  The four of us came together to begin a better new life here.

 

**Spanish for, “It’s served and the food is getting cold! Come have a seat and you guys can keep chatting as you eat!”

 

*

 

Teacher’s Note

These Imitation Poems express the deepest and most profound feelings of my students as they strive to make new roots in a new country with a new language. The poem, Elena, by Pat Mora was the inspiration. Writing poetry is an unfamiliar and challenging task for most of us, but writing poems in a second language is even more difficult. I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on challenging their minds and thank them for sharing their personal struggles of learning English while trying to make a new life here as they search for their “second soul.” The poetic images of floating alphabet letters, blurry worlds, birthday songs that are no long uproariously sung, and so many more touch my heart. I am so proud of their  determination and persistence to never stop trying, like Elena.

 

Ceci Greco

 

 

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Ceci, Chicago ESL teacher par excellence, taking a break from work

 

On day two of the ESL poetry series, let’s turn to native speakers of Japanese and Spanish.

 

(This week Poem Elf features poems written by Chicago ESL students in imitation of “Elena” by Pat Mora. Link here to read that poem. At the end of this post is an explanatory note from the ESL teacher, my sister Ceci.)

 

Anyone else delighted by the translated phrases in each poem, the way they connect readers to the poet’s previous life? They’re so unexpected they make me smile.

 

 

Tomomi

by Tomomi from Japan

 

My Japanese isn’t enough.

I remember how I’d shoot the breeze with friends.

 

「最近どう? ちょっと聞いてよ〜。」*

 

But that was in Japan.

Now I don’t have parents and friends nearby

No one to easily talk with about silly things.

 

Japan and the U.S. with different common senses.

At the grocery store, I try to read the numbers on the cans to see how much they contain.

But the unit looks like just a sign. I can’t understand.

All the alphabet and numbers float fluffy in the grocery store.

 

Reading and understanding worksheets that my daughter brings home,

Also, the alphabets begin to float in the room.

 

It takes so much time to collect and understand; I felt stressed.

I gave up contacting people except for my daughter’s school and public matters.

My heart got nervous and lonely, like when l’m driving on a snowy frozen road.

I want to go back to Japan. Tweet in my heart.

 

I escaped from learning English.

 

One day I noticed

My daughter is laughing. My husband is laughing. The dog is waving its tail.

Everyone is living here and moving forward.

Spring is coming little by little.

 

I want to be able to speak English little by little.

I change my mind.

 

*Japanese for, “Hey what’s up? Let’s have a chat!”

 

 *

 

Luisa

by Luisa from Columbia

 

My native Spanish language isn’t enough

I remember my family, my mother, my house and the weather with the wonderful landscapes in my city:

 

Baila conmigo mama y sonríe, estamos todos juntos, disfrutemos de este lindo dia, de la naturaleza, siempre en familia  **

 

But that was in Colombia, my country.

Now, I am speaking with Americans

in another culture, in another world, with another language.

I listen to Podcasts all the time  about diferent topics—meditation, brain, foods.

These things help me to improve my new language

And I have my English teachers (Ceci, Marie, Robbie) who help me and support me all the time with new knowledge.

I’m happy because I live with energy and I can learn.

 

**Spanish for, “Dance with me, Mom, and smile, we are all together as a family and enjoying this beautiful day, with nature, always with the family united.”

 

 

 

Ana

by Ana Maria from Columbia

 

My Spanish isn’t enough

I remember how I would go out with my mother or friends for long walks and long talks,

 

            Que clima tan rico, vamos a caminar hasta el zoológico y a tomar un poco de sol.  Salgamos ya para almorzar en el camino! ***

 

But that was in Colombia

Now, for me it is not easy to have these special spaces here

I miss my mother, friends. . . the nice weather of my country.

I still have difficulties trying to understand what people say.

But I keep trying

Despite the frustration of not understanding what people are saying

Or the fear that people will not understand me.

 

*** Spanish for “What a nice weather! Let’s walk all the way to the zoo and we can take some sun on the way.  Let’s go now, and we will have lunch on the way.”

 

*

Teacher’s Note

These Imitation Poems express the deepest and most profound feelings of my students as they strive to make new roots in a new country with a new language. The poem, Elena, by Pat Mora was the inspiration. Writing poetry is an unfamiliar and challenging task for most of us, but writing poems in a second language is even more difficult.  I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on challenging their minds and thank them for sharing their personal struggles of learning English while trying to make a new life here as they search for their “second soul.” The poetic images of floating alphabet letters, blurry worlds, birthday songs that are no long uproariously sung, and so many more touch my heart. I am so proud of their  determination and persistence to never stop trying, like Elena.

Ceci Greco

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Chicago snow for these Chicago poets

 

Writing a poem in a foreign language is a feat for any poet, but writing a poem in a language you are still learning seems difficult on the order of cooking two dishes at the same time, whisk in one hand, beater in the other, different timers and directions for each.

 

This week I’m featuring poems from people writing in their second language. My sister Ceci, a longtime ESL teacher in Chicago, tasked her students with writing an imitation of “Elena” by Pat Mora, a poem about learning a new language in a new country. I’ll re-print the original poem at the end of this post, and in future posts will link to it, but to give you an idea of what Ceci’s students were working with, here’s the opening lines of “Elena” —

 

My Spanish isn’t good enough.

I remember how I’d smile

listening to my little ones,

understanding every word they’d say,

their jokes, their songs, their plots,

Vamos a pedirle dulces a mamá. Vamos.

But that was in Mexico.

Now my children go to American high schools.

They speak English. At night they sit around

the kitchen table, laugh with one another.

I stand by the stove, feel dumb, alone.

 

*

 

I thank all these poets for sharing their work, their vulnerabilities, their dreams. Each imitation poem touched me deeply, and some moved me to tears.

 

Let’s begin the series with an explanatory note from Ceci, followed by poems from native Korean and Ukrainian speakers.

 

Teacher’s Note

These Imitation Poems express the deepest and most profound feelings of my students as they strive to make new roots in a new country with a new language.   The poem, Elena, by Pat Mora was the inspiration. Writing poetry is an unfamiliar and challenging task for most of us, but writing poems in a second language is even more difficult.  I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on challenging their minds and thank them for sharing their personal struggles of learning English while trying to make a new life here as they search for their “second soul.” The poetic images of floating alphabet letters, blurry worlds, birthday songs that are no long uproariously sung, and so many more touch my heart.   I am so proud of their  determination and persistence to never stop trying, like Elena.

Ceci Greco

 

*

 

Sarah

by Sarah from South Korea

 

My Korean isn’t enough.

I remember how I’d enjoy

Reading books to my children.

I’d mimic the sounds, using some different voices for each character.

I remember how they liked it

읽어주세요! 읽어주세요 *

But that was in Korea.

Now my children are grown and educated in America.

One day we had a family movie night,

My husband and children were talking and laughing about the movie,

I was silent, and smiled.

One day my daughter called me from college.

She was talking and talking, crying and crying

I couldn’t stop her, couldn’t say “can you say it again?”

I comforted her and we were sad together.

I was sad because my daughter was sad,

I was sad because I could not understand more than half of what she was saying

I was living in a blurry world

I got the chance to join the ESL class.

I will learn more English and keep on going to practice

To see clearly, to hear clearly, to understand clearly.

Someday, I will read children’s books to my grandchildren

They will say, “Read it again!  Read it more please.”

I dream it and smile now.

 

* Korean for “Read it again!  Read it more please.”

 

*

 

 Iryna

by Iryna from The Ukraine

 

Ukrainian, Russian,

Both my languages are not enough now.

I remember how I’d study them hard,

Memorizing rules and exceptions,

Getting writer’s calluses after too much writing.

Studying hard and passing exams.

            Пані ШанськаВи не здали, приходьте ще *

Were the scariest words for me then.

But that was in Ukraine.

Now my son is in his last year of elementary.

Four years flew by so fast,

Nowhe speaks English fluently.

Before I helped him a lot with his English,

But now I need his help more and more.

I’m almost forty and still embarrassed at my poor English skills,

Disappointed with my useless studying forso long.

Frustrated with the thought that those who taught me before

Knew English from Russian school books and no more.

It’s harder to study right now,

With all my home duties and kids on the arms.

But I gave a promise to myself:

“I’ll never stop studying and I’ll do my best.”

And one day, I really believe it,

I’ll speak English fluently without any limit.

 

Ukrainian for “Ms Shanska, you failed the exam, please come back again.”

 

*

 

Here’s the “starter poem”—

 

Elena

by Pat Mora

 

My Spanish isn’t good enough

I remember how I’d smile

Listening my little ones

Understanding every word they’d say,

Their jokes, their songs, their plots

Vamos a pedirle dulces a mama. Vamos.

But that was in Mexico.

Now my children go to American High Schools.

They speak English. At night they sit around the

Kitchen table, laugh with one another.

I stand at the stove and feel dumb, alone.

I bought a book to learn English.

My husband frowned, drank more beer.

My oldest said, “Mama, he doesn’t want you to

Be smarter than he is.” I’m forty,

Embarrased at mispronouncing words,

Embarrased at the laughter of my children,

The grocery, the mailman. Sometimes I take

my English book and lock myself in the bathroom,

say the thick words softly, for if I stop trying, I will be deaf

when my children need my help.

 

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More home poems from ESL students

Kyoto, Japan

 

Yesterday I posted Vladimir of Lviv’s imitation poem of Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago.”  (Vladimir is a student in my sister Ceci’s ESL conversation class. All the students were asked to write a poem about home using Sandburg’s poem as a model.)

 

Today I’ll highlight excerpts from a few more student works. I wish I could include everyone’s, because all the writers, those featured here and those who aren’t, amaze me.  After fourth or fifth grade, writing poetry is an unfamiliar, challenging and potentially embarrassing activity for most people, but writing poetry in another language is more difficult still.  Kudos to all!

 

Sumiyo C. writes of Kyoto:

 

Come and show me another city with historical treasures, so precious and

protected the enemy could not drop a bomb on them,

Here is a place where people live in harmony with the beautiful nature of the four seasons.

Grand as the Heian-jingu, tranquil as the Ryoanji rock garden,

traditional as the Gion-festival

 

She closes the poem with this lovely testament to her city’s endurance:

 

Once a prosperous capital, center of culture, now carrying on their

practice to the next generation, creating meticulous craftwork,

pursuing achievement.

Restoring,

Restoring instead of destroying, caring, valuing, respecting, proud to be

keeping tradition, delicate beauty, craftsmanship.

 

“Restoring/Restoring instead of destroying” is an artful little phrase that I’m enjoying/enjoying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myongjin A. of Kyongjoo, South Korea begins her piece with the opposition of crumbling antiquities and present vitality:

 

Ancient city, still alive

Buddha’s energy coming from the giant tombs

Relics and legends

Beauty of thousands time

City of the Shilla Dynasty

Calm, quiet, shy, powerful, smart

Still alive.


Amanda L. of Brazil wrote of her new home, Chicago:

 

Buildings scratching the sky, catching the wind

Cold, intimidating, yet magical

City of enchantment.

 

From now on, every time I’m in Chicago I’ll think of the buildings “scratching the sky, catching the wind.”  Even someone whose native language is English would be proud to have written those lines.

 

Natalia V. of Belarus also wrote of her new hometown:

 

My heart beats quickly

Seeing young people in love.


Such a tender image!  Does anyone hear South Pacific’s “Hello, Young Lovers” in the background?  I get a sense of Natalia remembering something beautiful from her own past as she watches new love in her new country.

 

M.K. of Seuol, South Korea employed alliteration to describe her home city:

 

Splendid, sparkling, small space

City of Super-duper energy

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, Esther C. of Korea writes this pithy and powerful portrait of her home country:

 

Divided land,

Barbed wires, land mines

Guns, tanks

Brothers against brothers

Families ripped apart

Hating, distrusting

Yet hoping for peace

My country, dreaming of unification

 

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