F. Martin Mortante, is a Library Assistant at the Oscar Grady Library in Saukville and a supporter of ALC. For the past few years Oscar Grady has entered a team in our annual spelling bee. This past year right after his team was eliminated, Martin took a moment to speak about his journey to the United States and learning English. Although he was not a student of ALC he has had a similar experience and understands theire reality. We were so moved by Martin and thankful for the support of the entire Oscar Grady Library we took a moment and interviewed Martin about what it is like to be an English Language Learner. Here are his responses.
When did you move to the United States?
I was born in Uruguay, a small corner of South America. I visited the US for the first time in 2001 and left at the beginning of 2002. During that time, I met Dawn, the woman who would become my wife. After a "long distance relationship” and her making frequent visits to my country, we married in 2004. It was then, I decided to move permanently to Wisconsin.
How difficult is it to leave everything and start in a new country?
It's a hard to explain, but it does not come easily. I am very lucky that I left my country in what I call "good terms", meaning as my own choice and not forced by political, economic or social circumstances. Still, leaving everything you know, family and friends, that have shaped your life in very significant ways, it's a transition that takes time. In my case it took me 6 years, in which I lived with my feet here but my heart drastically divided. That feeling did not allow my feet to walk properly. In many ways I still have my heart there, but now I have come to terms with the fact that you cannot live in two places at the same time. It takes some searching and interior reflection to come to this realization. Once I came to terms with that reality, I was able to move forward. It was liberating.
What was it like trying to learn English? What challenges did it present?
Learning English for me, has somehow come easy. First, because my parents promoted
learning languages since early age. Me and my sister took our first English lessons when we were 10 years old. Still, you do have to like languages, and in my case that has never been a problem. In addition to English, I can read French, Italian and Portuguese well and speak them well enough to manage when visiting those countries. Also, you need to put it in your head that while the US has the benefit of being a country composed of so many immigrants coming from all over, English is the key to open the door of this country. It is necessary to get a hold of that key. Otherwise you are looking in from outside through the window, missing out a LOT of the wonderful things this country has to offer.
What has been good about coming to the US and learning English?
I LOVE this country because it has exposed me to a wider world I knew existed but did not have access to it, and as I mentioned in the previous answer, learning this country's language has been the key for me to have a life here I am happy with.
What advice would you offer our students? tutors and supporters?
To students I'll say KEEP GOING! Accept corrections as tools to help you move forward, don't disregard any little tools out there that will help you grow; you won't believe how playing Scrabble after dinner with your wife will help you improve your vocabulary; watch a movie once a week with subtitles to help you understand sound, visuals and words of this wonderful language. To tutors and supporters: THANK YOU, for all you do. In these difficult times for anyone coming to this country for one or another reason, your time and support will be valued by many of us in ways you cannot imagine. Our life here starts at the door, and you are that WELCOME mat that is there for us in our first steps into this big great house many of us comes to call HOME.