By Andy Vipond

Two women with elegant flowing dresses and hijabs make their way into the classroom, where the whiteboard at the front of the room still has yesterday’s English lesson written on it.

They greet each other in Arabic and take a seat at one of three tables. As the clock nears, 11 a.m., other women soon rush in and take their seats.  They talk with one another in Arabic and English. They laugh and smile, chatting about their plans for the day.

Everyone falls silent when the teacher enters the room.  Their attention is focused on the board, where the teacher writes out today’s lesson.

This is a typical routine for English learning classes at the Good Neighbor Community Center,  27th and Y streets.

But this particular class is special — it’s the Friday class. And the Friday classes from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. are  different than the those held during the week. The women gathered here have an hour-long language lesson but then they share a pot-luck meal while listening to a talk about a special topic, such as health, public safety, cooking, careers and parenting.

But before they can get to the meal, they have to work through their lessons for the day.

Carol Knolle-Faulkner is the volunteer teacher for the Friday women’s language class. The retired Lincoln Public School teacher loves to volunteer for the this class specifically.

Today, she will cover a variety of topics — from cooking terms, counting money and the calendar. In between, she’ll quiz the women on vocabulary words and phrases.

First up: the phrases being learned today:

  • “I put the pot on the stove.”
  • “I put the dishes in the sink.”
  • I put the bread in the toaster.”

The women rush to write down these new words, eager to learn any new bit of language.

Next up: the names of days, weeks and months. First Knolle-Faulkner asks the class to find today’s date on the calendar. Mona Abdalla and Shem Khafaji, who sit next to each other and are sharing a calendar, look down, tracing the paper with their fingers until they find it and excitedly shout our the answer.

“It is Friday, April 14!” they exclaim.

English top priority

Abdalla, who came to Lincoln from Cairo, Egypt, is one of the more advanced students in the class. She has been helping translate Arabic to English for the other students for almost 10 years. Learning English is a top priority for her.

“If you know English, it can help you with conversations while shopping and you do not have to be embarrassed if you mess up,” she said.

The class moves onto another list of English words. Each woman has a sheet of the words, which include “from,” “your,” “time” and “water.” Knolle-Faulkner calls out a word and each woman then points to it.  Some of the women struggle with this because there is no translation in Arabic to help them figure it out. Knolle-Faulkner helps them pronounce the word to give them a hint as to what the word looks like on paper.

Finally, they review counting money. Knolle-Faulkner unzips a bag of coins and spread them out on the table. The women each take a handful.

“How can I make 10 cents?” Knolle-Faulkner asks.

The women rummage through their coins.  Some hold up a dime. Others hold up two nickels. A few are confused, so Knolle-Faulkner helps them individually. Then they move on to ways to make 25 cents, then 50 cents.

Ready for food

The lessons now are done, so the women clear the tables and get ready for the food. The aroma homemade breads fill the air. The women pass the food around as they talk in both English and Arabic. It’s a relaxing way to end a week of hard English lessons.

One of the women, Khadija Redui, said she is pleased with her progress. Redui, who originally is from Morocco, fled with her Sudanese husband during the civil war in Sudan.

“Good Neighbor has also been helpful with the English class. I’m getting better at it each day and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The English classes end at exactly 1 p.m., and the students wrap up the food and gather their belongings, stuffing pencils and papers into their bags. They kiss each other three times on the cheek, then practice the different ways they’ve learned to say goodbye in English: “Have a good day.” “Goodbye, see you tomorrow.” “See you later.”