There is no better method of learning than being in a situation wherein one needs to learn how to communicate with others properly in order to survive. This is my language experience and it is an unusual one to say the least. It does not occur within the confines of the four walls of a classroom and neither does it involve highly qualified professionals providing me with instructions as to how to learn the English language. Instead, my language experience took place in jail and my teachers were the other people in that jail.
Before I begin, I would like to say that I am not a convicted felon. It so happened that I was arrested for a speeding ticket one evening and may have accidentally insulted the arresting officer due to my poor choice of words. Be that as it may, I found myself locked up at the jail cell in the local police precinct for five days.
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I do admit that this is not where I expected to learn English and neither did I expect that my experiences here would actually help me to appreciate the American culture more and improve my English proficiency through my interactions with the people at the Police precinct. My teachers and instructors were the attending officers and the other people who were confined in the cell that I stayed in. My blackboard was the wall of the cell that was covered in graffiti having simply constructed sentences proclaiming innocence and shouting words of discrimination, passion and love.
It was a small cell. It did not have the phonetics chart on the wall and neither did it have the picture posters with English words underneath. At best, the cell I was confined in had a small bench that was hard and cold to sit on and sink that only poured cold water. Perhaps it was this setting which made me realize that I did not want to stay here long enough to acquaint myself with everyone who stayed there or the thought that I could end up as being the most senior resident of that jail, whatever it was, I realized that the only way that I was to make the best of my situation was to quickly learn how to communicate with the jail guards and the other people in the cell.
“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.” These words of Malcolm X come to mind as I narrate my experience. It is true that the essence of being an American is not simply being born an American but involves partaking in its rich culture and heritage in every experience that one has in America. Similar to my experience, Malcolm X used his writing and gentle talking to reach out to people. He realized that the only way he could reach out to the masses, the oppressed was by improving his language skills and communicating to people at a basic level that was effective enough to convey his messages and ideas.
My experiences during those five days which I spent in that cell taught me how to respect the mixed heritage and cultures that has come to define what America is. My interactions with the other people there taught me about the African-American culture and also so much about the other races that have come to call America their homeland. The unexpected and uncharacteristic gentle reception which I received from the officers and people there taught me that there is no place on earth more proud of this than the United States. The officers taught me simple phrases used in conversation to ask for water or to make a phone call while the other people in the cell taught me the sad truth about how people still get discriminated against because of their race.
I may not have come out of jail an English language professor but I did learn enough to enable to communicate confidently with others and to also appreciate the importance of the English language as the tie that binds all the different races and cultures in America. There may be people from many different races and cultures in America but they all speak one language, English. It may not have been the best equipped classroom but provided me with the best opportunity to experience just what it means to be American and to appreciate the importance of mastering the English language.