Most days when I walk into the semi-beginning adult ESL class I teach twice a week, the start of class conversations are the basic, “Hi, how are you? Great to see you.” There’s nothing too fancy. At this level, there’s not enough vocabulary to have many detailed conversations beyond day to day activities. Today, though, one of my students wanted to know which countries I’ve been too. When I rattled through the countries of Europe and hit on on Austria, his eyes widened and he sat forward.
“Did you hear about the man? basement? daughter? he wondered. He read about the story of the man who kept his daughter locked up in the basement for 21 years and had seven children with her. My student was aghast and felt like talking.
His reaction prompted a conversation with everyone–a mix of Somalis, three Mauritanians, someone from Poland and someone from China. Everyone’s reaction was the same. How in the world could such a thing happen, and how awful. A great command of English wasn’t necessary to talk about a universal no-no. In a class where many people don’t know much about popular American culture where our news swirls –Britney who? Brangelina who? — this particular world news story hit a nerve.
Weird became a vocabulary word of the day. Aberration would have been a bit complicated. In a world where, sometimes, it might be hard to find a common thread, there are some things everyone agrees on.