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Summer class teaches Burmese children their culture's tongue

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Friday, July 5, 2013 - 7:33 am

Burmese children are attending a summer school to, well, learn Burmese.

Many of the Burmese who have immigrated to Fort Wayne have children who were born here, or were so young when they came they never really learned much of their culture's tongue. Kyaw T. Soe, IPFW New Immigrant Literacy Program director, is teaching an intensive six-week course geared to help these children learn the language.

Using a classroom at the Educational Opportunity Center, 3000 South Wayne Ave., Soe is offering the free course to also help them learn a little bit more about their culture.

For the center, a nonprofit that teaches ESL classes for adults and children as well as GED and college preparation courses, having Burmese learn Burmese is a little bit different

Tuesday morning the children listened while Soe read through a list of words on the Whiteboard, and then repeated them in unison. After several times through, each child stood and read aloud to the class. The children were eager to get a turn. Instead of hanging back they waved their hands enthusiastically in the air to try to be the next person called on.

Talking to several of the children after class they shared their thoughts about spending six weeks of their summer in school.

Tyla Soe, 7, said she wanted to learn Burmese and she doesn't think it's hard. She could read a little bit before she started. Her older sister, Tasha Soe, 11, said they speak Thai at home and the alphabet is totally different, but she doesn't find it confusing.

Myat Aung, 11, said she wants to understand her parents better. Her parents only speak a little bit of English. Let Aung, 9, said he can speak some Burmese, but he can't write it. He wants to learn the alphabet. Soe PoPo, 8, said he finds it difficult. The Burmese alphabet, which has 33 letters, is very different.

Some words like "coffee" have been adopted from the English language. Being a tonal language the way one pronounces a word can make it mean three different things.

“Some of the numbers are hard, I don't know how to say 20 or 40, but I will learn sooner or later,” Tyla Soe said.

The students spend an hour and a half in the class five days a week. One of the things they are hoping to get out of it is better translation skills for their parents. Some of the children said they feel more American than Burmese, but they feel like they still understand of their culture.

“In Burmese class we get to learn what it's like there and how to behave there,” said Myat Aung, she said she is planning on going back sometime because she still has a lot of family there.

Kyaw T. Soe is planning on continuing the Burmese classes this fall at IPFW as a part of the New Immigrant Literacy Program. Soe said although they do teach Burmese at the local temples, his summer class is an intensive, five-day-a-week approach. He said he is teaching the classes for free this summer because he would like to give something back to his community and help children know their language so if they go back to Myanmar they will be able to participate in the changes taking place there as the country opens up to the west and democracy.