Speaking their language

Language and culture classes lure children to the library

Language and culture classes lure children to the library

July 09, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Local kids entering third through sixth grades are visiting other lands this summer - all from a meeting room in the Washington County Free Library in downtown Hagerstown.

The children are attending free foreign language and culture classes sponsored by Friends of the Library, the nonprofit organization that supports the library.

Three sessions of Spanish language, one session of French and one of German were offered to groups of five to 20 students. The classes, for kids with no knowledge of the languages, filled up early. For the first time in the four years that the Friends have sponsored the classes, instructors are certified language teachers, and they will receive a small stipend for their service, said Mary Summerville, co-chairwoman of Friends of the Library.


There were 18 students in this week's Japanese class led by Sukey Rankin. Although she shared several Japanese words with the children, Rankin made it clear in plain English, that her class was about Japanese culture, not language - unlike the other sessions.

Seated around the two large meeting tables, the kids were attentive and some of them had some awareness of Japanese words and customs.

Macy Scibilia, 10, wanted to take the class because she thought it would be fun.

Eight-year-old Malachi Fox of Clear Spring was interested because he enjoys the Japanese cartoon "Yu-Gi-Oh!" and collects its cards.

His mother, Nansi Fox, is happy that he's interested in learning another language. Phil Fox, Malachi's father, said it's also a little bit about the future. Business is international. It will be good to have an awareness of the culture of Japan.

Sandra Reynolds, 8, will be in fourth grade at Fountaindale Elementary School. She was interested in the Japanese class because she already knows about Spanish and French. She's learned some Spanish from her father, and she used to listen to French tapes.

Japanese is the only language 11-year-old Sean Joseph Magee IX thinks he won't be learning at Northern Middle School.

Rankin told the children that her mother, Yokiko Dorsey, came to Hagerstown as bride of Rankin's father after the Korean War.

"She did not teach us Japanese," Rankin said. There was not a Japanese-American community in Hagerstown in the 1950s. To survive, Rankin's mother had to learn English.

"Konnichi wa," Rankin greeted her students. The Japanese greet people with a bow as a sign of respect, she said. A deep bow indicates great respect, she added. Adding san to a name is another sign of respect.

Rankin also gave the kids another - less formal - way to greet people: Chaiyo, pronounced "ohio," means hi.

There were step-by-step directions for making an origami - folded paper - carp kite, a good-luck fish.

The children learned that bells and the color red are considered lucky, and each went home with a small bell on a red ribbon.

Nicole Williams, offered that crickets are considered lucky in Japan. The almost-8-year-old learned that on television and has a "Hello Kitty" book - based on a Japanese cartoon character.

"I think that Japanese is interesting," she said.

The lesson included some geography and a primer in counting.

Bridget Wasko, 8, already knew how to count to 7 in Japanese and signed up for the class because she likes to learn about other languages.

Rankin was wearing a pair of wood-soled Japanese shoes that the kids tried on. She brought in some decorative "hair sticks," pencil-like hair ornaments. She twisted up Alexis Barone's hair, and the 9-year-old said it didn't hurt. She said she likes to learn languages and she signed up for the class because she likes some Japanese music.

Janesha Walker, 10, had a good reason for coming to the class. Her dad's in the military, and her family is moving to Japan next month.

"I'm gonna miss my friends," she said.

After today, when Rankin's class ends, Janesha will have a little more knowledge of where she's going.

She'll know how to say "Hi" in Japanese and can make some new friends.

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