Friday, December 10, 2010
Have Americans Lost the Art of Conversation?
Yesterday I went to an English as a Second Language (ESL) event at Kodiak College. The organizers wanted a few english speakers for the students to talk to and help them become more proficient at speaking English. So they asked me to come - I like to talk.
I went with low expectations anticipating an hour of painful 'my name is . .. .' and "I am from .. .' type conversations. Instead I spent an hour of delightful conversation with people from China, Japan, the Philippines, and even El Salvador. We talked about Imelda Marcos' shoes, dictators in developing nations, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, tuna fishing practices, bicameral vs parliamentary governments, the Ainu of Hokkaido Island, and even why the United States needs more viable political parties. All conversations were even keeled and all participants seemed to realize that nothing is simply 'black or white', but that there are always shades of grey.
I was shocked. Here I was talking to people who are just learning to speak English and I was having conversations at a level I would be hard pressed to equal if I gathered a random group of Americans together. What really amazed me was that the students already knew about each other's countries. I find your average American only knows about America. Try talking about the pros and cons of bicameral vs parliamentary systems of government to a random guy off of the street. He'd probably tell you that we just need less government, and how about how Sarah whacked that caribou. If you tried having a conversation about anything meaningful it would probably get polarized pretty quickly.
It also made me realize that perhaps America needs more and not less immigrants. Maybe they could teach us something.