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Fire English — What Words Can Do

By Suzanne Nichole Jones, SEU Student

What would it be like to walk through life, knowing you have something to offer the world and being pushed aside as useless, ignorant and an outsider — not because you cannot speak, but because you cannot speak the same language?

New Place, New Language

Unlike our daily, more superficial frustrations that are often induced by unwanted waiting (in line for our coffee, in traffic on the way to work, or even in agony for our internet to load) there is a woman who lives with this frustration, of having something to say but no means of saying it.

She was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, where she worked in one of the city’s largest universities as the head lawyer, practicing on behalf of the school’s students in times of crisis.

Her frustrating circumstance was not introduced without cause. In fact, the story of its introduction is rather sweet. She came to the United States to visit a friend to many of us, the one and only Mickey Mouse. While here, she met a man with whom she fell in love. They married, and as you do when you fall in love, she gave up her familiar home and amazing job to be with her husband where he needed to be, here in Florida.

The catch? She doesn’t speak English.

Imagine spending years of your life earning an education, climbing the business ladder, making yourself indispensable, and then choosing to do what’s best for your family — then losing it all in an instant, simply for your inability to communicate.

English and Intercultural Studies

There’s a major in the Department of Humanities (within the College of Arts & Media) titled English and Intercultural Studies, more affectionately known as EIS. EIS majors are a close-knit group, a family of sorts, that all share one heart — a heart to open doors for this frustrated woman, and many others like her.

The English and Intercultural Studies program trains young students to teach English as a second/foreign language. Though it is possible to earn a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification without ever earning a degree, EIS students are training to be the best of the best, and more importantly, to share the Gospel.

EIS trainees teach every Tuesday and Thursday evening in Buena Vida East. They teach students who are local — men and women who are here for innumerable reasons, needing to learn English to communicate.

Winta Habtab, one of the EIS students who is graduating this semester, was once an EEL student herself.

“I was born in Ethiopia and lived in many different countries before coming to the U.S. When I got here, my first teacher was an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher. I ended up having a great connection with her, and she really inspired me,” says Habtab. “If I or my classmates were ever uncomfortable, she was the one we always went back to. She was our ‘school mom.’ And I knew that I wanted to be what she was for me for someone else.”

Habtab is fluent in three languages and has a conversational understanding an additional two. “I don’t really see it in terms of speaking three languages as much as being able to communicate with that many more people,” says Habtab. “It’s a way of bonding with people. It’s really cool to run into someone you’ve never met, but sharing a language with them and automatically sharing a connection with them because really language is much deeper than words — it’s a bond, a culture, a community.”

With such a heart found in EIS majors, dedication is not hard to come by. In some cases, such as the woman from Brazil, EIS student teachers are opening up their schedules and deliberately making time to meet with their ELL students outside of regular class hours.

What a way to create the good news that can feel so absent in our world — establishing a means of communication for those who would otherwise be forced to go without.