For a few March nights, students in two classes of the Free English Program turned their learning lenses inward in an effort to understand how languages help form them.

Beginning English learners in Class A and intermediate English learners in Class C used markers and colored pencils and the special help of a former International Language Institute student to create language portraits of themselves.

Yangjinlamu, known as Lhamo to teachers and others at ILI, helped the FEP students and teachers more deeply understand the idea that all the languages they use, plus the languages around them and the ones that their ancestors spoke, combine to make up part of their identities. Lhamo wrote in an email that working with University of Massachusetts Associate Professor Rebecca Lorimer Leonard and ILI Board Member,  last spring, “Made me realize how language can reflect and shape my own social identities. I also found that the way of thinking will change when using different languages.” It was wonderful to welcome Lhamo back to ILI and see how much she has grown since enrolling at Greenfield Community College this past fall. 

Through example and discussion, Lhamo helped the FEP students get at a deeper understanding about the influence of languages on their identities. One Ukrainian man colored the bottom half of his portrait blue to signal how his ancestors had spoken Romanian, though he does not. His Romanian legs, he said, walk him back in time so he can visit his ancestors.

All FEP students, plus others in the community, can join Andy Schindler, who teaches the FEP Class C, and Greg Kerstetter , the Class A instructor, as they continue their study of what is known as translanguaging in April as ILI hosts a series of Sunday workshops about the idea with Rebecca Lorimer Leonard.

Learn more about Literate Mending.

Teachers and students working at drawings.