Proverbs Provide Perspective - in and out of classrooms
“Well begun is half done,” goes the Greek proverb.
Short and memorable, proverbs often capture a point of view in vivid words. We learn proverbs our entire lives - from our relatives, our teachers, our friends, the media, and our literature. They contain folk wisdom gathered through time and experience. They often capture a common human experience.
Yet I like to use proverbs in ESL classes for three other distinct reasons.
1. Students can share proverbs from their own countries. In ESL classes where you have students from many different countries and numerous first languages, proverbs allow students to affirm the insights and experiences of their native culture. “Home is where the heart is.”
2. Students can easily memorize proverbs. Using the right proverb at the right moment gives students a tremendous sense of competency and fluency in English – something that immigrants often struggle to achieve. “No pain, no gain.”
3. Studying proverbs from around the world helps create a more global education, and counters the fears of English displacing the insights and words of other tongues and times. “The sky is blue everywhere” and “birds return to old nests.”
4. Sharing proverbs shows a respect for tradition and the past while students expand their vocabulary in a new, modern language. Many immigrants, particularly older ones, have very mixed feelings about their new lives in an English speaking nation. “Old habits die hard.” et “you’re never too old to learn” gives hope.
For instance, an older immigrant from rural Korea learning English in Los Angeles might find themselves also learning to live in modern, culturally diverse city for the first time. While the formal subject may be English, immigrants are also discovering new ways of living and thinking in the school. Proverbs seem to affirm the concept that “the more things change, the more they remain the same” and “the unexpected always happens.”
When I taught an advanced ESL conversation class to immigrants and international students from many different countries at Santa Monica Community College, I usually introduced conversation topics with a classic American or English proverb. Students would soon be paired up to interview each other and share experiences. When we returned together for a group discussion, I noticed that students often explained their answers using proverbs. I decided to “go with the flow” and build proverbs into course materials. It works.
After all, “everybody is a student and everybody is a teacher..”
Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.
Eric Roth, the co-author of Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics, includes over 200 classic proverbs, 500 witty quotations, and 1400 questions in his first book.