Taking time to teach: Former teacher volunteers time, effort with English lessons for Iraqis
March 17, 2009
BAGHDAD - It is 9 p.m. at al Muthana Army Base, home to the 6th Iraqi Army Division. The work day ended hours ago, but one small classroom is still lit up and a multitude of voices breaks the relative silence that has overtaken the rest of the post.
"Everybody together now: I, we, you, they, he, she, it."
A group of Iraqi Soldiers are learning basic English skills, thanks to Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Ramirez, logistics non-commissioned officer in charge, Team Weasel, 6th IA Div. Military Transition Team (MiTT). Using an interpreter to communicate the meanings of words into Iraqi Arabic, Ramirez's class becomes a two-way street of learning.
"I teach you English, you teach me Arabic," said Ramirez, with an animated grin.
While English classes are not a normal part of the mission for a MiTT Team, Ramirez took it upon himself to go an extra mile. "We are here to assist the Iraqis any way we can and this is something that I can do," he said.
Ramirez had plenty of experience teaching English as a second language in his hometown of Oxnard, Calif.
"I taught ESL for adults at a post secondary school for seven years in Oxnard," he said. "It started out to be a part-time job and later became a full-time job. After that, the economy went bad in California so here I am, thirteen years later."
Teaching the Iraqis goes hand in hand with his know-how, Ramirez added.
"The experience fits in very well. Here we have the same thing: adults learning English as a second language," he said.
According to Ramirez, classes last about four months and cover three books of basic English with about 15 chapters each.
"I try teaching three days a week, two hours a night," he said. "I try to do two chapters a day, but if not, I go as fast as they can consume the information. I see how much they grasp and go from there."
The instruction deals with the basics of writing and speaking the English language, Ramirez explained.
"We start out with the fundamentals: ask your name, basic pronouns, the verb 'to be' and we gradually progress from there," he said. "The majority of them have already had English, so they grasp it pretty quickly."
So far, Ramirez has taught two iterations of the class and is on his third.
The class has been met with enthusiasm by the Iraqi Soldiers who come to learn, according to Ramirez.
"We've had a lot of support from their officers, they give them time to attend and the Iraqis see this as an advantage to them," he said.
The Soldiers in the class are eager to learn and Ramirez responds in kind. Correct responses are met with "zain" [Arabic for: good].
"These guys are here because they want to learn," he said. "They come in with a lot of energy, so I show them that same energy and it helps things, I think."
For the Iraqis, the knowledge is invaluable though learning it may be difficult.
"Beginning is hard, especially for those who can't read or write but [Ramirez] is a good teacher," said Pvt. Bassem Daygan, 6th IA Div. He added that being able to speak English will help him in his duties. "I want to learn pronunciation so the Americans can understand me," he said.
Enthusiasm aside, Ramirez explained that his goal is not to have the Soldiers fluent in English, but to give them a platform on which they can build.
"It will benefit them because we switch off every year and it allows them to communicate better with the next team and it just continues on from there," he said. "We're not here to make touchdowns; we're here to push the ball forward."
When the class is over, silence once again resumes as the Soldiers return to their barracks with a little more knowledge of a new language. Ramirez packs up and heads back to his quarters knowing his endeavor, while not required, is furthering his mission of assisting the Iraqi people.