If America is a melting pot, then this Belleville classroom is a cauldron of bubbling ideas, simmering laughter and an overwhelming yearning to master our country's basic ingredient: the English language.
Over there is Silvana Kandala, 52, originally from Iraq, reading the rules for being a U.S. senator and her husband, Imad Yousif, 51, cracking up his classmates with his take on the English language.
There's Gemma Arroyo, 44, who grew up Mexico, practicing comparatives while Emiko Ward, 31, originally from Japan and now an O'Fallon resident, reads about how elected officials are selected.
"Oat of office?" she asks.
And here's Barb Daley, professor of adult basic education, patiently correcting and helping with every butchered intransitive verb and phrase, like Ward's slip.
"Oath," she explains to Ward. "It's like a solemn promise in court, like on 'Law and Order.'"
The students get the pop culture reference. They nod.
They're all here in this Southwestern Illinois College classroom to brush up on the finer points of English as part of a noncredit course. They are professionals and professors, a group of seven people from six countries wanting to master the language. Its incongruities cause them to laugh throughout the session.
"Let's work on comparative adjectives," Daley says.
Worksheets are passed.
"We had homework?" jokes Leo Garcia, 30. Originally from Argentina, he lived in Spain several years and now resides in O'Fallon.
Daley goes around the room with each student providing the form of big, bigger, biggest or careful, more careful and most careful. The rules are, to say the least, a bit confusing.
"I hear badder - that's not right. People say, 'He's the baddest person around,'" Daley said.
Later, the word 'sharp" throws Zinaida Tragesset, a 43-year-old originally from Ukraine, now living in Belleville. She holds up a pen and asks Daley about it.
"Sharp is a brand name, also," Daley explains.
"What do you mean when you say someone has a sharp tongue?" Yousif asks.
"You're criticizing someone; it could be mean," Daley responds. "It's very direct. It can also mean smart, like someone has a sharp mind."
Through the interaction, students pick up on the underlying meanings of English.
"You can make a sharp turn, like driving a car," Elkins said.
Daley then explains the use of "the sooner, the better" and similar constructions.
"The more electricity you use, the higher your bill will be," Daley read.
Several laugh, as the real-world use hits home.
Even the different types of shirts and sweaters they are wearing is fodder for Daley.
"Leo is wearing a polo shirt," she says.
"We say polo in Spain," he answers. "In Argentina, it's chomba."
An hour into the class, it's time for a 20-minute break, a time to reflect.
Olesya Elkins, 26, of Shiloh, says she's here to learn skills to help communicate with her 7-year-old son.
"My son asks a lot of questions in English," said Elkins, who grew up in Russia.
The question is, will he have as much fun learning the language as his mother and her classmates?
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