An Ode to the Linguist

Very often, our ELL students come from countries that differ greatly from our own. Not only do we need to be sensitive and adapt to their unique language development, but we also need to be sensitive to their acculturation as well. The following poem, written as a Spoken Word piece, touches upon the following experiences that many ELL students have to deal with:

• Adapting to change: dealing with culture shock, dealing with leaving friends and family back home, dealing with the loss of their old life
• Socio-emotional growth: trying to reach across language barriers and make friends

I’ve written this as an ode to our brave students – our brave students who face learning an entirely new language in a strange new place while trying to hold on to the language of their ancestors.

Enjoy! 🙂

An Ode to the Linguist

I watch your pen slide across your notebook
Curling the magnificent script with ease
And suddenly
I wonder about your life story
The truth of old friends
The depth of your family
Your past life across the sea

You see, my dear student
It’s so easy to place blame
On you.
You, who cannot speak the same
Way as me
Cannot write with the same
Words as me
Cannot hear the same
Melodies as me
How can I even begin to share complex ideas with you?

I watch your eyes droop, as if shamed
By the shackles and chains
That have had you tamed
Since you first came
To this place you must face
With a brave face
And absolutely no tears allowed
Because you cannot go home anymore anyway
And what’s the use of crying?
This is your home now.

Yet as I watch your pen slide across your notebook
Curling the marvellous script of your heritage with ease
I see your eyes flare with light
A light that goes beyond the sounds of the ABCs
A light that goes beyond the new decrees
That you must seize
As your own
A light that burns brighter still
As your thoughts ooze down your arm
To your hands
To the pen you grip tightly
And spill out as a story to tell the whole world
And quite rightly
You do it in the script of your family
Your history

And as I watch your pen slide across your notebook
Curling the unceasing script of your heritage with ease
I realize that you are a Linguist
A Linguist for your mother
Your father
Your brother
Your sister
Your friends
So use your language, Child
Because I can see that you want to speak
Of the unfamiliar breeze
Of the 8-month long Canadian freeze
That makes you sneeze
More than you ever have back home
Or the sounds of children playing
Out in the school yard
And you are desperately praying
That you knew what they were saying
So that you can join them too
And make this strange new place your home

But keep writing, Child
So that I can watch your pen slide across your notebook
Curling the beautiful script of your heritage with ease
So you can break free of those shackles and chains
And lift your eyes with no shame
Because your spirit cannot be tamed
Take your time
Try your best
I will be here to help you
And one day, though we may not speak the same
Write the same
Or hear the same
We can write and speak our stories


Whether you like it or not, we’re all in this together.

Food for thought: We all deserve to feel cared for, like we matter. So. When was the last time you cooked dinner with someone? When was the last time you bought your coworker a morning coffee while you bought your own? When was the last time you did anything for anyone, just because?

Try it consistently for one week. Just one week. Observe behavioral differences in the people around you, in the people you work closely with, in your own peace of mind. Let me know if you’d like some ideas. I’d love to hear your results.