Although it's been over a month since returning from Europe, thoughts about English language learners are still running around in my brain.
Packing to leave for that trip, I thought I'd catch up on my reading and threw in some journals for the plane and train rides. Appropriately, on the final train ride before returning home, I read "Why Travel? Reflections on Culturally Relevant Study Abroad." (Rhodes, J.A. & Milby, T.M. Spring, 2009, Reading in Virginia. 23-27)
Reporting on a trip in 2006 when several teachers attended the International Reading Association World Congress in Budapest, the authors concluded,
"Our two main research findings were that: (a) Study abroad program participation increased educators' cultural understanding; historical knowledge, literacy instructional strategies, and provided information from an international perspective, and (b) Participation in travel abroad placed educators in the role of language learners, thus providing an opportunity to develop empathy for ELL students within the United States."
Although I hadn't travelled to Europe as a part of language study, being immersed in other cultures among other language speakers made me self-conscious. I was the one who didn't fit in! Listening without understanding led my college-age daughter to observe, "Isn't it interesting that random sounds put together have meaning?"
Actually, these sounds are random to us, but have distinct meanings to the speaker and listener. And as Rhodes and Milby observed, "Educators who travel abroad return to American classrooms with additional instructional strengths. They have renewed interest in meeting students' needs, exhibit open and caring attitudes, and gain an expanded knowledge of history for the countries they visit."
If you travel in a foreign country, not only will you gain greater empathy for those for whom English is not their primary language, you will also encounter books and signs that have been translated into English--with more or less success.
Bookstore in Tabor, Czech Republic
Restaurant in Nuremberg, Germany
English Language Learners, International Reading Association World Congress, Reading in Virginia, Travel in Europe
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