A chance to learn English together

A chance to learn English together
By ana-maria

by Connie McDougall

They are from Russia, Israel, Iran and Bulgaria. Somehow, through fortunate circumstance, they now find themselves together, sitting around a table at the Greenwood Senior Center practicing English in the Talk Time program.

A quick survey of their lives yields an astonishing variety of experiences.

Heidi and her husband, Hashem, remember their home in Shiraz, Iran. “It was a beautiful house, with a big garden I plant with vegetables,” she says. “The weather is good, four seasons.”

Hashem nods, recounting the abundance: “Radishes, basil, mint, celery and parsley.”

He worked as a welding inspector of pipelines before coming to the United States.

Another couple from Iran, Famina and Farhad, lived in Tehran, a teeming city of millions. “I had my own pharmacy,” she recalls. “It’s different than the system here with big companies. I have two children, a son in France and a daughter in Montreal.”

Her husband, a civil engineer specializing in the restoration of historic buildings, worked for more than 20 years with UNESCO, and continues to be involved with the organization.

Natalia came to Seattle via a circuitous route across decades—first Belarus, then Tajikistan, a move to Israel, and finally, America. She studied fashion design and her husband is an artist. They have two sons. “I’m a private person,” she says, not wishing to offer details of her journey but does say, “Twice, we lost everything.”

Lidia is from Moscow and the mother of two daughters. “My first education, I was a teacher. I was always interested in drawing, so my second education is architecture.”

Sofia, Bulgaria was home for Moni. “I love Sofia, very beautiful,” she says. “I had my vocabulary but didn’t know how to say things, not the freedom to speak. I couldn’t buy something in the store. I couldn’t understand what they say. I’m grateful in this group.”

Ruth introduced the program to the center in 2010 after retiring from Edmonds Community College and volunteering to teach English in China.

“That piqued my interest in teaching English as a second language. I also volunteered tutoring English at a program through St. James in Seattle,” she says.

“I didn’t have any specialized training for Talk Time, but with a master’s in social work, I’ve led many groups of various kinds. I was volunteering at the senior center as a co-leader of a women’s friendship group and I led a book discussion group. When asked what else I would like to do, I suggested the Talk Time group.”

Her students are glad she did.

“You are a very good teacher,” Hashem says with a broad smile.

Assisted by several volunteers including Linda Laing, Mary Smith, and Sara Stalman, Ruth believes she gets at least as much out of Talk Time as do her students.

“I learn so much from this class,” Ruth explains. “We’ve bonded and become friends. I used to travel and meet people from all over the world, but now the world comes to me. It brightens my life.”

Talk Time takes place every Monday, 10:30 am-12 pm and Thursday, 2:00-3:30 pm at the Greenwood Senior Center, 525 N 85th St. It’s free and all are welcome. 

If you’d like to learn more, contact Cecily Kaplan at cecily @phinneycenter.org.

Originally printed in The Review, Fall 2018