I am volunteering once a month with an English as Second Language program and assisting women who are students of the program with conversational English.  I sat in training a few weeks ago, very unsure of how this would go, I’ve never worked with an ESL group before. 

This week I had my first chance to volunteer with students.  I sat at a table with a couple of friends, a mother from Dubai and her teenage daughter.  They have lived in the US for a year. The daughter attended an American/British International School in Dubai, and is fluent in English.  The mother is from Jordan and her language is Arabic. 

We started our conversation with simple topics and the M&M’s game, for various colors of M&Ms give a different fact about yourself.  When the mother responded to “tell something about yourself” with “I don’t speak English” and a hearty laugh, we all laughed and she seemed to relax a bit. 

Photo from Joanna Gaines’ Instagram

I’m not sure how much my friends and I might have taught her but I learned a few things…

A mother’s pride is spoken in any language. She had so much pride in her daughter, her academic achievements and ability to play the piano.  She was just like our mothers and talked about the things her daughter didn’t like to do – like cooking or cleaning. She also spoke about her other 2 children, they are triplets, and all of their accomplishments.

Grief is universal language.  We talked a bit about family, leaving Dubai and coming to the US.  Her mother died right around the time she left.  Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke of her.  She still missed her. I get grief, it broke my heart for her.  She is so far from all of her family and anything familiar. 

It is hard to learn something new.  The English language is complicated, I can’t imagine coming here as an adult and trying to learn the language.  Or going to any country to learn a language, it does not come natural nor easy to me.  She spoke of friends telling her about this program, the homework she does and her desire to be able to communicate in English.  She was so proud when she could name all of the colors in English and when she turned to her daughter and said she understood what was said in a conversation. 

Hospitality is a gift in any language. She spoke of the dishes she cooks, we talked about the names of ingredients in English vs. Arabic.  By the time we wrapped up our conversation she had the next time we would meet on her calendar and plans to bring one of her signature dishes to share. 

Again, I’m not sure what I taught her, but I know when you sit down to intentional conversation there will be lessons on both sides.  Building relationships is important to me and I was reminded despite speaking different languages we share so many of the same things and the language barrier quickly falls away. She gave me such a high compliment as we were leaving, a hug and told me “she liked me, that I was sweet.”  I had to blink back tears.

photo from Dear Lillie blog
You never know what taking time out of your day will do for someone. A mother who loves her children, misses her family and is trying to learn something new…translated words, new words, lots of laughs and it was like we were immediately friends.  It is my prayer that I would always be intentional, seek to understand others and remember time is sometimes our greatest investment. 

Blessings,  

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