More Than Just Talk

September 07, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to the Sun

It's a Wednesday morning at the Florence Bain Senior Center in Harper's Choice, where members of the Chatterboxes, all of them senior volunteers, have come to listen as others practice their English.

The 5-year-old support group provides partners for conversational English to foreign-born adult students, many of whom also participate in the English as a Second Language program at the Howard Community College.

"In this classroom, there is face-to-face instruction, which is very useful," said Chung Ho Kim, a 50-year-old from Korea who also is learning English at Howard Community College. He, his wife, Heeja Kim, and their two sons have all practiced English with the Chatterboxes.

Last year, Mr. Kim, an Ellicott City resident, graduated from Bowie State College with a bachelor's degree in marketing. He plans to return his family to Korea, where he will be a pharmacist for a pharmaceutical company.

Handing his teacher, Harriet L. Perretz, a Time magazine in which he has underlined unfamiliar words, Mr. Kim seemed eager to get to work.

"We get to know the students very well," said Mrs. Perretz, 74, leader of the Chatterboxes program and a member since the group began in 1989.

The program is sponsored by the Howard County Office on Aging. Non-English speakers in the program take part in classroom conversation that includes such practical topics as transportation, food, banking and how to read classified ads.

They also take field trips with Chatterbox members, including visits to the grocery store, the bank, and an occasional visit to a home for a holiday dinner.

"I want to learn perfect English," said Ching Chong, a 56-year-old Hong Kong-born Ellicott City resident who has lived in the United States for 22 years. Because the homemaker did not want her two children to forget their native language, she spoke Chinese in her home. But that meant that she never perfected her English.

To cultivate Mrs. Chong's second language, Chatterboxes member David Feldstein, 78, is encouraging her to speak English with her family. During class, he corrected her halting speech pattern as she talked about a recent visit to China.

Not all of the senior citizen volunteers who staff Chatterboxes were born in the United States. Jalil Gozlou, 74, a former math teacher in Iran, is a substitute teacher in the program who practiced English with the group for eight years.

Another substitute teacher, Goody Irani, a 65-year-old former engineer, studied in English while living in India. "I still have to make it better," said Mr. Irani.

At a typical session of the group, students sign in at the senior center and sit at a table in a meeting room. Sometimes, the room is crowded and people spill into an adjoining hallway.

Generally, a dozen teachers are paired with a dozen students. "They may not have the same teacher each time, depending on the student-teacher ratio," said Mrs. Perretz.

Two longtime students are Lernid Kalikhman, 74, a former watchmaker, and his wife, Irina, 63, who worked as a psychologist. The Columbia residents moved from Russia to the United States 5 1/2 years ago. Since then, they have practiced English every Wednesday with Chatterboxes and taken language classes at Howard Community College.

Helena Hanson, 67, a Columbia resident who has been a member of the Chatterboxes since the group's beginning, has worked with Mrs. Kalikhman.

"In the beginning, I couldn't speak or understand any English," said Mrs. Kalikhman. "Today, my husband and I have our citizenship; we have a nice home and friends. I am very happy."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.