Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Beauty of Language

Written By: Lewis Scholfield  ICS- Progression Volunteer) 

After an English learning session with young people in Nkhata
 Bay district
Living in England has given me an opportunity  to hear a variety of languages. To some people this causes frustration; as they find it disrespectful or feel like people are hiding things from them. As for me, I find language fascinating due to the use of slang and accents which stand out in crowds regardless of how densely populated an area is. As I arrived in Malawi, it became very confusing and difficult to communicate when trying to engage with ICV’s (in country volunteers) and people from the local town. However, after spending a few nights with our host family, Jamie and I found ourselves on the other side of this language barrier.

ICS-Progressio Volunteers from England having a wonderful
time with children outside YONECO Office in Nkhata Bay
We spent our evenings in the host home; it had become almost a ritual that Jamie and I catch up on our daily events and thoughts after a meal. We’d be sat looking out over the tropical bay and within minutes of the conversation starting, two brothers from the family would come and sit close by us. Both boys are aged 13 and have a very basic knowledge of the English language, so by the third night we began to question their reasoning as it seemed they did not have any. 

We started by asking the boys if they understood what we were saying. The only response was a look of confusion. We tried again using hand gestures and slowly and clearly asked “Do you understand us?” The boys shook their heads. We continued with this method and asked “Would you like us to teach you English?” Both boys sprung up with excitement and responded “Yes, yes, yes!” I was shocked by the passion and enthusiasm these boys had, usually the adolescents back home would be reclusive and theirs motivation withdrawn. Whereas the optimism and positive attitudes made me feel like these boys may be fluent by the evenings end.

Two hours flew by, we used a notebook to write out the alphabet and a dim torch was the only source of light after a familiar blackout. Although the resources where basic, the boys positive outlooks remained. We spent the first hour learning the alphabet and each letter’s pronunciation. We continued the lesson finding words starting with corresponding letters. An example of this would be, A for apple. I remembered this teaching style from school, when I would have been in a similar situation to the children I found myself teaching. It seemed effective as the boys quickly started taking over the examples. To ensure both myself and the child understood the references; we would draw a picture underneath each example.

After spending a few days without any understanding of each other, the four of us found ourselves laughing and talking together. We would reinforce the boys with clapping or by saying “Good”, we’d correct mistakes and then demonstrate why it was a mistake. Overall this made our relationships stronger and the boy’s grandparents thanked us with such gratitude.

 This felt unnecessary as we were living in a room they had provided, we ate meals that they’d cook and provided us with the means and explanations to carry out simple tasks like washing our clothes. It felt great to be doing something that benefited somebody else. 

We have come to Malawi to make a difference, and after some weeks of planning and learning, this was our first real interaction.

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