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Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Art of Speaking Texan

Big Tex! State Fair of Texas
I confess that I learned to speak "Texan" at an early age from my West Texas grandparents. "You don't say!" and "Oh my lands!" are household exclamatory phrases meaning, "Your statement is unbelievable to me given the circumstances!"

I remember going to my first Texas State Fair and hearing Big Tex say, "Howdy!" which in everyday English means, "Hello!" or "Greetings from Texas!" I remember coming home with a chalk drawn portrait of myself which still hangs in my wall of memories.

I begged my parents to move to Texas believing school would be like The State Fair.

I finally got my wish and my family uprooted from Renton, Washington and moved to Irving, Texas and enrolled me in fourth grade.  I colored the state bird, the state tree, the state flower, the state flag; the state capitol. I wished we'd never moved to Texas. I also wondered how long learning about Texas would last.

It lasted all of fourth grade.

My family was uprooted once again and we moved to Hinsdale, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I autographed my bigger-than -life "All About Texas" book and gave it to my grandparents. I adored my new 5th grade teacher who read to our class everyday.

I also learned to speak like a "Chicagoan." I learned that it was improper English to pronounce the final /s/ at the end of the "Illinois." I learned to pronouce Chicago as Shi-caw-go. Aunt was pronounced like it was spelled which was different than Texan in which Aunt is pronounced like the insect ant. And a "John" was another name for where you go in order to relieve your bladder.
ESL Summer School

At the end of sixth grade we moved back to Texas and I cried the whole way. The first day of middle school I made the mistake of asking permission to "go to the John" which in Texan meant,"go to a person named, John, who is nicknamed a toilet." I also discovered that I would spend yet another year learning all about Texas.

Once again I felt like an outsider until I made a friend.

Lilly had moved to the United States from Israel and had to learn English. While learning "Texan" was a far cry from learning English, somehow we connected. She made me feel welcome in middle school. And so Lilly became my best friend.

Every week her mom made flat bread and Lilly would invite me over. I can still remember the aroma of bread wafting from the oven. I watched her mom painstakingly roll layers of dough until they were as thin as a sheet of paper.  It was called Baklava. I introduced Lilly to fried okra, cornbread, and lemonade tea.

I was reminded of this experience while teaching an English Second Language (ESL) Summer School class. We had an end-of-summer-school food fest and learners brought food representing their culture. Not only were these learners having to learn an entirely different language, but they had to acclimate to a new time zone; pop culture; social language. Learning to speak fluent Texan was a far cry from learning an entirely new way of life!

Here are some other things I learned:

1. Technology levels the playing field for English Language Learners.
2. Embracing culture and diversity are essential to learning.
3. All learners crave connection and relationship.
4. Food can break down cultural barriers and nurture budding friendships.

As summer gives way to fall, Big Tex' is poised and ready to greet visitors to the 2015 State Fair of Texas. The smell of fried corndogs; corn-on-the-cob, and cotton candy will greet me and my family when we step onto the fair grounds. I will proudly choral my children and grandchildren as Big Tex' greets us with a Texas "Howdy!"

Now that I think about it, learning "Texan" wasn't difficult. 

I just needed a friend.

Confession Reflection:

1. Why is it important to create a culture that embraces diversity in our schools and in our community?

2. How does technology level the playing field for ESL learners? Give examples.

3. Is there a more efficient way to integrate Texas state history standards into the curriculum without devoting an entire year to them? What would the new standards look like?

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