ESL: Mother tongue more than just a language

This post is an excerpt from an email to my brother, in response

to an article he sent me about English as THE Global Language:

Excerpt from my email to my brother:

English as a global language

Reminds me of when I was in Tonga at Liahona High School.

You may recall that I was  appointed as an adjunct professor of education out of BYU-H (Brigham Young University–Hawaii) and sent to the Islands under the auspices of the ITEP (International Teacher Education Program) to teach teachers university courses, and to also show them how to be more effective teachers, such that their students would get better marks.

What I so poignantly remember is this:

One day as I was “lecturing” (I don’t really lecture; I’m not boring
and we have a lot of fun when I am leading a workshop), it came
to me that I needed to say something very important about the
sensitive and personal issue of language.

Right then.

I suppose that this could be termed an “educational prompting,” as
distinct from a “spiritual prompting,” although they really may be
very similar, eh?

So, I want you to imagine me on the dias, with the whole faculty
seated in front of me, and you can see me raising both arms out
in front of me straight, horizontally, with lightly closed fists, side
by side.

I said:

“Some people say that English is more important than Tongan
(I raised my right fist above my left fist in the air), and some people
say that Tongan is more important than English (I raised my left
fist above my right fist in the air).

“I want you to know that one is not above the other. They are both
important (I placed my two fists side by side in the air and and
bounced them lightly against each other sideways, at equal heights
of course, to give visual emphasis to my point about equal importance).
They are both equal (I added for emphasis).”

Some of the staff started to weep. I let the moment rest right there.

This was a sacred moment. Your language is not like a suit of
clothes that you can change at will with little repercussion. It is
so intertwined with your internal identity that it is a very personal,
a very sensitive, and yes–even a very sacred–thing.

Like our Mom says: “When you are discussing someone’s religion
or culture [or language], remember, you are on sacred ground.
Take off your shoes and walk softly.”

So then, because they respected me, and trusted me, and loved
me (because they knew that I loved/respected/trusted them), one
of the more mature teachers was able to risk raising her hand to
press the pertinent question they were all thinking:

“Well, Meek, if they are both equal, how come you [inclusive
‘you’ here, meaning all palangi’s (white people), me personally,
the high school, the government, and so on] push English so much?”


I responded betimes [quickly, early, instant in season, as it were]:

“Because English is everywhere in the world. And I want your children
to be able to function anywhere in the world, not just here in Tonga.”

They got it.

Great moment. More tears.

Can you see how important this vignette was for me, and for them?

Doc Meek, Saturday, July 24, 2010 [Pioneer Day here in Utah, USA] …………………………………..

J. Collins Meek, Ph.D. (Doc Meek)

“What if you are smarter than you think?”

Learning Specialist:

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Ph (801) 971-1812 (Jeannette); Fax [801] 282-6026

CANADA: P.O. Box 3105, Sherwood Park, AB T8H 2T1
TONGA: Mele Taumoepeau, P.O. Box 60, Nuku’alofa
USA: 3688 W 9800 S, #138, South Jordan, UT 84095

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