Friday, September 14, 2018

Where Language Meets Learning: An interview between a poet and his teacher

This week we would like to highlight our student, Mohamed Abdalla Abdalgadir, originally from Sudan. Like many of our students, Mohamed has called many places his home. He says it has been “quite difficult, but enjoyable at the same time,” traveling from country to country. Coming to New York City was the “perfect choice,” he explains, a kind of “hitting two birds with one stone,” because he knew that here he would both experience a “magnificent” city and improve his already advanced English.

“But,” says a classmate, “your English is so good, why are you learning?” Mohamed smiles, looks away. He is modest about his English. He does has a strong grasp of grammar, but says he would like to gain more confidence in speaking and in writing.
His eagerness and vocabulary might impress his classmates and teachers. In fact, Mohamed is the author of multiple collections of poetry, a lover of language, and applying to be a PhD student. But don’t let his background deceive you. Mohamed, just like everyone else, has his own set of challenges and obstacles, the same challenges and obstacles we all face when learning a new language.
When I found out that Mohamed, my current Fluency Development student, is working to publish his fourth collection of poetry, I knew I had to interview him.

How did you hear about New York Language Center? 
A friend of mine had a good experience at NYLC so he gave me a piece of advice, “Choose it,” which I did.  

Do you remember your first day of class? What was it like, how did it feel, were you nervous or excited?
Of course. It was a Monday morning, everybody was so nice to me, the place was full of energy and I was so excited to take a further step towards mastering my English language.

What are some similarities between your language and English? Do you know any other languages? Are you interested in learning them?
I come from a very rich, sensitive and poetic language (Arabic). For Arab people their language is not only a language but also the core of their identity, which would go without saying if you have the fact that the word “Arab” comes from the verb “yarab” (يعرب), which means to express yourself fluently or eloquently.
I always enjoy comparing between my mother tongue and English. Of course, there are a lot of similarities because languages are sisters from one mother but to be exact I need extra time with the English language to give you an answer that goes beyond the superficial similarity of some words, rules, or even some idioms.   
Regarding the second part of your question, I regret not learning another language earlier. So, yes after mastering my English I’m interested in learning a third language, maybe it would go with my philosophical interest, German, or it might be French or Spanish, if I go with my interest in literature.        

What side-projects, outside of school, are you working on now?
I’m up to my eyeballs in doing a lot of things these days. For instance, I’m writing my fourth book, preparing myself to match the requirements of university for PhD degree, also to make ends meet I have to do my freelancer job. My PhD will be related to philosophy and literature at the same time. My thesis might be called, ‘the reinstatement of philosophical metaphor’. My previous books were about politics, romance, but my new one will be a little different.

What is your favorite line of poetry?
Poetry is the mirror of life. So, it must reflect everything. For this reason, it is hard to choose just one line from the forest of poetry in my head but I will do it randomly. The first lines to come to my mind are by Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi
“Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.”

"Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

What was the most beautiful library you have ever visited? What do you think of the libraries in New York?
I’m a kind of book worm. So, for me libraries are my favorite places in this world. In fact, I couldn’t agree more with the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges who said once, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of Library". I’m always keen on visiting the library in any city where I’m.
Since I came here to the USA I’ve visited some outstanding libraries, like the library of Congress in Washington D.C, the New York public library here, and now I’m planning to go to Jon Hopkins library. But the most beautiful library I have ever been to is the Alexandria library in Egypt which was established in 3rd century B.C. It was considered the most significant library in ancient world.

What is one piece of advice you could give someone who wants to learn English?
At all costs, don’t give up. It is worth it.

What are three of your most favorite words (in any language)?
It is so difficult to answer this question due to the unlimited nature that the language has, in addition to this every single word has own infinity as well. But if I must, I would choose these three words: Dream, Imagine and Create. As you might guess, all of them make me feel that I have no limit at all.

Finally, is there anything you would like to ask me, or the school?
As a native speaker, how can you describe your relevance with the English language before and after teaching it? 
In other words, did you see your mother tongue differently after you started to teach it? If your answer is yes, what is the most astonishing fact that you had from this experience?     

Good question, Mohamed! Your passion for language is made clear from your quest for learning. 

Teaching English has given me the the words to talk about words, the language of language. “Relative clause”, “present perfect tense”, and even the word “comma” fascinate me. The fact that I can express an idea about English to students like you, who want to learn, is sometimes enough confidence I need to teach. I hope you gained some confidence from answering these questions, and that our readers absorb some too. 

Written by: Ivan Brave 
Faculty member Ivan Brave teaches mostly at the NYLC Upper West Side location. He also chaperones for activities and shows students interesting parts of town. His passions include learning, writing, languages, and philosophy, and he believes that the best part about teaching is when a great teacher and a great student meet to accomplish their objectives. You can read more of his writing at  

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