Being CSL is Frustrating

All I wanted was some bottled water.

If you know me, you know I’m a bottled water snob. The Aquafina at the hotel was not going to cut it. I’d rather die of thirst then drink Aquafina as it always tastes sandy.

One would think finding water would be easy in a place like Chicago. I have always equated Chicago with San Francisco or New York, where on any block one can find a convenience store of some sort.

Guess what? Not on Chicago’s South Loop near China Town.

It was very hot yesterday here in Chicago. I wanted some water for the hotel and to take to the conference—always cheaper to buy away from any convention center. As one does now, I checked Google and Apple Maps. It gave me a few places, but they were at least a mile away.

Being in Chicago, I thought these apps had to be wrong. I decided to just walk to Chinatown since it isn’t far from our hotel.

Guest what? The apps were right. Not a single family market, convenience or drug store to be found.

I walked for about 45-minutes around the neighborhood looking. Finally I saw a place called Fat Lee Supermarket (spelling is correct).

Stepping into this supermarket, and it is a true supermarket, I start searching. However, everything is in Hanzi, which I can’t read. I walk around trying to at least find drinks. When I find them, nothing looks familiar. There is no English translation for me. I’m afraid to buy anything that looks even remotely like a drink because of what happened at dinner—we went to dim sum, and when offered chicken, we thought it was chicken meat, but it was actually chicken feet (don’t do it, tastes awful). I’m an adventurous eater, but I’d had my adventure for the day. I left frustrated, not so much because I couldn’t find a drink, but because there was no translations for me on the labels to know what kind of drinks were in the bottles.

Now frustrated and thirsty, and stubborn, I kept going until I found a row of stores. Surely I thought, one of these places has bottled water.

The first store was a food store of sorts that still advertises it has adult videos. Skipped this one. The next was a restaurant, then a travel agency, then a jewelry store. I’m thinking, really! I see what appears to be a valet, so I ask him. He doesn’t speak English very well and points to a co-worker walking towards us. The second man knows English. I’m saved! I ask my question and he points to a place a couple of doors down from me. Another market. Will this one have what I need?

I enter Tai Ho Yee Food Co a little leery after my first supermarket experience. Once again I walk around. Once again everything is in Hanzi. Am I really not going to be able to find water here. Then I turn an aisle. At the end of the aisle is a refrigerator. I try to register what is in it and see something familiar. Interesting was the feeling of relief, that I finally recognize a logo, meaning I can figure out what it is, a Pepsi. Then I see Ice Mountain water, 7-Up and Orange Crush. Hurray, success!

What I thought to be an easy quest, became a lesson in how a second language student must feel each and every day at school until something clicks that is familiar. Mind you, I recognized the logos and the names were in English, giving me great relief. However, how many of our classrooms have anything in a student’s native language to help them have a sense of relief, of knowing at least one thing in a classroom not really designed for him or her.

As I plan for teaching or admin this school year, I’m definitely going to keep this small lesson in my mind. It will help me to think how to be more welcoming to our non-English speaking students and families. It will help me think of how to better reach, and teach, students how to communicate as a second language learner.

I’m curious what strategies and techniques you might share in teaching a second language learner, to quickly move him or her to grasping academic language and learning, while also keeping in mind how scary this must all feel, even if they know a few words in English. Please share your ideas and expertise.

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