The Toad Who Stayed a Toad

It's funny. Once you tell people you're starting to learn a language, they expect you to have grown by leaps and bounds every time they see you. In my jewelry class this evening, my teacher started rattling off to me in Turkish, expecting me to now be able to understand every word. When he saw that I looked lost, he asked, "And? Your Turkish class?" "Yavaş, yavaş," I replied (slowly, slowly). Then he started to quiz me, pointing to various things in the class, looking disappointed when I didn't recall them quickly enough. If nothing else, this year has been a direct view into the experience and frustration of being a second language learner and the instant pressure ELL students face in coming to the US and being asked to show mastery in grade level curriculum.

The truth is that even though I'm learning a lot and things that were confusing are now making sense, my Turkish is still advancing at a snail's crawl, confronted with the marathon of the Turkish language, I have barely crossed the starting line. The other students in the class show endless patience with me and search the depths of their memory to retrieve words from the English and even French that they learned in school, to include me in the conversation. I feel so sheepish, when I see them struggling to find these words- I should be the one struggling more to be understood! I try, but am often confronted with a word I have no anchor for, and when I draw an absolute blank and can't even pretend to be searching for meaning.

I also feel extremely grateful to my classmates. They are all rooting for me. I'm like The Mighty Ducks of Turkish- the unlikely underdog with earnest goodwill. They are waiting for the moment when the toad will turn into a prince, so to speak. It happens eventually, right? That is the undeniable direction of the time-tested plot. What if I am the one who rewrites the story to be the toad, who stayed a toad? Yikes and gulp.

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