A few months ago, I covered an event on immigration reform for a local newspaper in which one of the topics discussed was the language barrier that many immigrants face and the isolation that they feel as a result. The discussion looked at various ways to deal with this issue, and a nun stood up and told the audience that she had been teaching English as a second language.
She told us that she came from a relatively large congregation, with a sizable Asian and Latino population that could either not speak English at all or did not speak it well enough to feel confident when communicating with English speakers.
She pointed out that teaching English as a second language helped break down a lot of the barriers between the people of different cultures. The reality is, she said, that language is the most important way to communicate and understand different groups of people.
At her church, she had started with three ESL classes, and said that within two years they were up to 17 classes, including several for both adults and children. The classes had been quite successful in bridging the communication gap at her church and in the community in which she lived.
She said that she believed everyone was called to do something in life, and said she believed that this was what she was meant to do. She had been teaching English as a second language for several years prior to doing so at the parish in which she currently resides, and said the classes always proved to be beneficial to the communities in which she lived.
Another speaker got up and said that he thought teaching English as a second language was something that, in his experience, was something for which non-English speakers were extremely grateful. He said the people he worked with in the classes he taught desperately wanted to learn how to speak the language.
I think this issue goes beyond the boundaries of the church, as well, as the foreign-born population of the United States continues to grow.
Teaching English as a second language is paramount in such places as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, for instance, where the Latino populations are expanding, with a large number born in Mexico where the first and sometimes only language learned is Spanish.
One of the things that has always made me very proud to be an American is the opportunities that we all have and the freedoms we all enjoy. I think that those opportunities should be available for anyone brave enough to leave their home country and come here, and if teaching English as a second language will make this country an even better place for a large number of people, it should be continued.