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Nervousness Over Language Barrier Quickly Faded While Making New Americans

Khadro Mohamud of Somolia with Columbus Neighborhoods: New Americans producer Cindy Gailard.

Khadro Mohamud of Somolia with Columbus Neighborhoods: New Americans producer Cindy Gailard.

Benjamin Baira from Chad with Columbus Neighborhoods: New Americans producer Cindy Gailard

Benjamin Baira from Chad with Columbus Neighborhoods: New Americans producer Cindy Gailard

Cindy Gailard
Columbus Neighborhoods: New Americans producer

I was nervous when I met my first Somali woman. And again when I shook hands with a Bhutanese/Nepalese refugee. The time I spent with a family from Chad was nerve wracking.

I didn’t speak Somali, or Nepali, or Amharic and they certainly didn’t speak English. I broke out in cold sweats when there was no one around to interpret our conversation.

I don’t know why but I was sure I would offend each person I met that didn’t speak my language. Or worse, I would make them feel silly or worse, discounted. Or I would mess up the entire conversation by my sheer nervousness. I wasn’t sure if touching them would break some iron-clad rule and I would be thrown out along with my intrusive questions and camera gear.

For all of the struggles that our refugee populations have suffered, the one thing I learned is that they are gracious above all. For they were patient with me, with my questions, with our misunderstandings, with our requests for another time when I could drop by and talk some more.

And they were so grateful for any interaction from an English speaker for it gave them the chance to practice speaking a tongue that was foreign to them yet a complete necessity to learn if they are to make it here. It is this gratitude that brought out the tea services, the cookies, the handshakes that I will forever remember.

The Columbus Literacy Council accepts volunteers to help immigrants and refugees learn English. You don’t have to be a certified ESL teacher to help. Just know that nervousness comes with the territory but it doesn’t last. And what’s on the other side is a great relationship with a new neighbor.