A Little English Goes a Long Way

posted by Crissinda Ponder

Because of Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC), a non-governmental organization “working in Southeast Asia to improve living conditions of local communities through health, education, economic, and emergency relief projects,” my eyes are open to a world that I did not fully understand.

The work they do is outstanding. I am amazed at how beneficial their services are to local Khmer people.

One of JWOC’s main resources is the free classes project, and the locals that are aware of these classes seem to receive them well. News of these projects often spread by word of mouth, which ultimately helps JWOC cut down on advertising costs.

JWOC offers sewing and computing classes, and kindergarten classes that teach basic literacy in both English and Khmer. Most of the classes offered are English classes, however, and a little bit of English can go far.

The ability to speak English can determine the difference between one landing a job that can support a family, or relying on family members for not-so-sufficient work. Being confident in one’s ability to speak English well is extremely important in the hospitality and tourism professions.

Even if a hard working Cambodian student can’t find the time to regularly attend English classes, any free time they can afford to spend in them can mean the world and a half.

I am proud to say I’ve been productive during my stay in Siem Reap, and I have volunteered some of my time by attending a few of the English conversation classes.

Voluntourism—gotta love it.

The atmosphere is so welcoming—it almost reminds me of a traditional class setting. We sat at desks in front of a white board, just like high school.

We weren’t situated in rows, watching the back of each other’s heads, though. There was a semicircle that stretched across the room, and we all faced each other. A few of the other travel writing students accompanied me to the class, and we were all the center of attention each time we were a part of the circle. The class was grateful for our help.

I commend the teacher, Andrea Wong, for her patience—teaching English is much harder than it may seem. She is phenomenal and has a TESOL background.

Her enthusiasm made it easier for me to enjoy the class, because I saw her passion and it sort of rubbed off on everyone else.

I especially loved the blank stares I got when trying to explain words that I thought were so simple. Try describing the word afford without using the word afford, it’s pretty hard. Or coming up with a definition for carved and defining it using other words that get you blank stares.

It’s all a part of the learning process, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong, the students were great, it’s just that I lack the teaching gene. I could probably never become an educator.

All of the students are eager to learn and they are extremely friendly.

Learning names is a big part of the experience—I wrote my own name down several times for the students and also asked them to write down some of their names for pronunciation purposes. The students were interested in learning more about the volunteers and why we were in Cambodia.

This experience is something I will hold dear to my heart, because now I know that my language is much more than a way to communicate—it’s a gateway for several other opportunities.

 

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