Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W ’95
A few months ago, I received an e-mail from the Free Library of Philadelphia seeking volunteers to train to become English language conversation group facilitators. The timing on this was uncanny, as I had just begun looking for such an opportunity; I frequent a local French language conversation group, and the presence of native speakers is always a great help to the rest of us. We marvel at their generosity and patience as we stumble through the linguistic minefields of subjunctive tense and the gender of inanimate objects. Yet the French nationals in the circle gently guide us in the right direction and, most importantly, never point and laugh at us despite our frequent mistakes. I appreciate it so much that I wondered whether I could somehow do the same for people in Philadelphia who wanted to practice their English.
Because I spent a semester abroad during the fall of my junior year, I know how intimidating it is to be surrounded by people who may as well be speaking a dialect of Charlie Brown Teacher-ese (i.e. “Mwah-mwah mwah mwah-mwah”). I know how unnerving it is to utter sentences to strangers not knowing how I will be received, or whether I will even understand the reply. And my trip was only four months long. Nothing was at stake but my semester grades.
I liked the idea of doing something to help people with much more at stake, who have made a longer-term commitment to conquering a language, and who are willing to put in the time to make it work. How pleasant it was to learn that library branches all over the city had begun to offer regular occasions for international adults to practice their English. I am so proud of Philadelphia for making these available for free! These are not English as a Second Language courses, but rather – just as important, in my opinion – casual conversation sessions where people can gain confidence putting to use what they have already learned, or are currently learning.
So far, I have met adults from their early twenties to their late sixties, hailing from Morocco, Ukraine, Spain, and more, all converging here in Philadelphia, all seeking to improve their ability to engage in the most essential of human social endeavors: to understand, and to be understood. I am honored to pay forward some time as an investment in the future of this great city of brotherly love. How happy am I to be a part of the effort? This happy: