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English as she is spoken, or how I help Ethiopian mums over the language barrier

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I am a volunteer not like the others, they teach English to students, I teach their mothers.

"Teach" is perhaps too strong a word. I prefer to say that I help adult or mature students who have a smattering of the language but are struggling with the often convoluted English texts they are required to read and analyze on their way to a first degree. English in itself is sufficiently complex but becomes even more confusing when dealing with the social sciences that include psychological discussions that attach distinct meanings to words or phrases outside their common usage. Students visit me once a week for an hourly session on a one-to-one basis.

In particular over the years, I have been helping, through the good offices of the joint ESRA and AACI scheme "English Without Borders", Ethiopian working mothers and others to cope with the English requirements of the colleges at which they are studying for their first degrees. However, as English is their third language and as they lack a basic grounding, they are really in need of a more organized form of tuition. In the cases of other Ethiopian women who just wish to learn, or improve, their English, there have also been sessions of one hour per week at various community centers (Matnasim).

As a result I have found that there is sadly, a core element in the Israeli Ethiopian community that for the most part appears to be outside the general help afforded the community, which is mainly aimed at supporting the young and the elderly. Ethiopian working mothers who are studying, or wish to study for their higher education form this core element. The benefit from assisting these intelligent and courageous women is fivefold. Firstly the women will get the education they deserve, secondly as mothers, they will be in a position to assist in their children's education, thirdly they will be better able to assist the older generation to acclimatize, fourthly they will be instrumental in increasing and promoting the standing of the Ethiopian community, and finally and not least, they will enhance the quality of our society as a whole. Helping them will be truly cost effective.

There is thus an urgent need for the provision of English language assistance to those Ethiopian working mothers who are studying, or wish to study for their higher education. To give an indication of their desire to learn, some of the women not only study in the College in Netanya where they live but also travel to Holon or Kfar Saba. These Ethiopian women are around 40 years of age. They are working mothers of young, teenage and army service children. They already serve their community in social activities and they have obtained the positive or tacit support of their working husbands to advance their education. These industrious women have had little or no basic education, certainly not in English which is a requirement for them to obtain their first degrees. They need a sustained preparation course in English, (taking into account that this is their third language) that will enable them to advance their education. They are working mothers who do not have the wherewithal to attend private English language courses.

It is therefore indeed pleasing to see that 'English Without Borders" has recently announced that its newest project will be to give help to students at Netanya College. This would be even more effective if it were combined with a drive to encourage more Ethiopian mothers to advance their education.

Yoel Sheridan is the author of "From Here to Obscurity" and "Gold Ducats and Devilry Afoot" 



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Thursday, 25 July 2024

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