Meet Al


I’ve been [at OLC] 2 months, I believe. I am working on getting my TOEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate from this institution in town called Spring International. I went through the classwork for my certificate this winter, and in order to complete the requirements, I have to do 20 hours of practice teaching here at the Ozark Literacy Council. Of course, I’m fulfilling the requirements of my certificate, but once you get involved, it’s very interesting, and you’re doing a good thing.

Here at the OLC, they try to get people who have any language abilities [besides English] to help those who might understand the language that you know. It’s easier to transfer knowledge if you have a common language. It just so happens that I know French, because I have a degree in French, lived in France for a while, and so on.

So, I’ve been working with people who have some knowledge of French. In this case, it’s been refugees from the Congo. I’ve worked with a couple that don’t have any knowledge of French or English, and so I’ve [also] started learning a little bit of Swahili. Now, I have a student who speaks Liberian English, which is just a different dialect of English, but she doesn’t know how to write, so I’ve been teaching her letters and writing, and that’s certainly very interesting as well.

My students don’t have, in many cases, a stable environment to study, so that’s tough. They might not be people who have a great familiarity with books. All of us in the United States have come up, more or less, through a pubic education system, which we take for granted and we don’t really think about what that means. It [likely] means we can read, we can write, we all have a familiarity and understanding of what books do. There are lots of places in the world where people don’t have that. There’s a very large framework of literacy which even goes back to the familiarity with books, with paper and writing, which a lot of people have to learn. And when you think about [Americans’] solid years [in public school] of practicing writing with people looking over your shoulder and helping you…that’s a lot of input that each one of us has had. If you don’t get that input, that’s tough.

In many ways, Ozark Literacy and the knowledge of what goes on here is a little bit like having access to an unknown parallel universe. There are people who have come from very difficult situations; one of my students is from the Congo, but lived in refugee camps in Tanzania for 20 years. He spent the majority of his life as a foreign refugee. That gives a new perspective to all the difficulties of our lives. We get caught in our little world; it’s good to have knowledge that there are other worlds that can put your world in a different perspective.

Brittany Phillips