Our girls know that school is a privilege. Of course there are days when we walk into the room for spoken English and they beg No class today, Ma’am! in the exact same voice so many kids in America use to convince their parents to let them skip school. In fact, most of our girls have never attended school before—holding a pencil, adding and subtracting, and reading are all new, foreign activities—but once they sit in their seats they’re eager to get started.
The difficulty, however, isn’t all on the girls’ side; teaching English as a third—maybe even fourth—language brings challenges of its own. Our junior English class has girls from age twelve to seventeen, but they all have around a kindergarten level in English, which means phonics. When our junior English teacher started teaching the class, she quickly noticed the girls were making the exact same sound for every vowel. These phonics differences are extremely important when learning to read, so she decided to focus in and practice—one vowel at a time.
After nearly 45 minutes chanting baaaaaa so the class could hear the “short a” vowel sound, our junior English teacher realized this was not going to be easy. Many of these vowel sounds don’t even exist in Assamese, Hindi, or the girls’ other mother languages. Each class was bringing new challenges with new sounds, some of which the girls couldn’t even hear. At the end of each day, our teacher was parched, dizzy, and discouraged—especially at the sight of a goat.
Fast forward a few months and both class and teacher have come a long way. The girls are almost finished with phonics and started on their class one workbooks, of which they are very proud. They are beginning to understand the short books their teacher reads aloud in class and some are even getting 100% on their weekly spelling tests. Their vocabulary is expanding and conversations in their spoken English class are beginning to flow. When they correctly pronounce words, their faces beam with accomplishment and ours beam with pride. Their teacher is now a professional at running around the class making phonics sounds and crazy hand movements. She has learned patience and understanding. She has learned creativity in coming up with new ways to present ideas. Together, the class and their teacher have learned to laugh at mistakes, to respect each other, and to have fun learning through play.
Providing an education for our girls is one of the most important things we do. It gives them confidence, passion, and opportunities. We think our girls deserve lives full of knowledge and learning. They deserve the possibility of a better future. Here at 7 Sisters Home, the girls’ days are busy with not only English, but Assamese, Hindi, math, science, history, stitching, and life skills. They are working harder than they knew they could and now when they tell us they want to be doctors, nurses, and lawyers when they grow up, we can proudly and honestly say that we believe they can.