By Alexandra Green
“Hadi? [this?]” Malak asks me as she points to the letter “G,” wondering if that is what I want her to pronounce. As I nod my head in affirmation, she exclaims—rather confidently—“A!” I shake my head no and I immediately see disappointment spread across her face.
“Non, Malak. C’est ‘G’” I explain to her. She repeats the letter and then I move on to the next—the letter “H.” As I point to the letter waiting for her to respond, Malak once again glances at the letter and declares “A!” As I tell her no and ask her to repeat the letter “H” I see nothing but confusion in her eyes.
Malak is one of my students in Tarmilaat Village. She’s six years old and before I met her—one short week ago—she did not speak a word of French. With my lack of Derija (the Moroccan dialect of Arabic) and her lack of French, I knew that it would be challenging to communicate even basic information to her. After introducing myself to Malak in Derija, I had her begin learning the letters of the alphabet. Although she knew how to sing about half of the alphabet song, it was immediately evident that she could not match the spoken letters with the written symbol.
Since introducing Malak to the alphabet, I have come to realize that she is under the impression that the first letter I point to, for her to pronounce, is always the letter “A.” She assumes that because the alphabet begins with “A,” that she should always pronounce this letter first.
Through a lot of time—and patience—Malak has learned that each written symbol (in the alphabet) has its own distinct sound. It is incredible to witness the constant growth and learning of my students, such as Malak. Without a doubt in my mind, I know that my students—both the ones I teach French in Tarmilaat and the ones I teach English to in Azrou—have come to realize that with hard-work and determination, they have the ability to learn another language.
Following the day that I first met the shy, young girl who was hesitant to copy the letters of the alphabet, Malak has never ceased to amaze me with all that she has learned. She now understands that not every letter is pronounced like “A,” can answer basic questions about her name and her age, and can identify the letters A-G and numbers 1-7. Her shyness has faded away and each day she comes to school with more eagerness to learn than she had the day before.
Each day when my students—such as Malak—walk into the classroom, I cannot help but smile. After four weeks of teaching, the impact of our lessons is clear. As I witness these children gain hope and confidence in their ability to speak another language, I feel both pride and satisfaction: pride in my students and all that they have learned, as well as satisfaction that I am helping them achieve their goals.