In the film “Before Sunrise,” the character Céline recites a story to her new friend Jesse after recently meeting him on a train to Vienna. She tells Jesse of a time when she was traveling in a foreign country, and the sense of peace that came over her from not being able to read anything. The noise of advertisements and newspapers disappeared, melding beautifully into a moment’s anonymity and the opportunity to just be.
To me, this was always something of a romantic idea. That is, being blissfully unaware of the native tongue is lovely — until you get stung by a bee and are in desperate need of an epinephrine shot. At that moment, you would give anything to speak the language.
The truth is that a vacation from your own language can be just that. A vacation. But during most of our lives there is a very real and very pressing need to be fluent in the language of people who surround us. There are emergencies — like bee stings — but also regular, day-to-day moments: purchasing groceries, asking for directions, speaking to your child’s teacher, applying for a job and so on.
You may not realize that there are thousands of adults right here in Kenosha who struggle with basic English — some who are learning it as a second language and some who were born here but didn’t finish their schooling. And this is why the staff and volunteer tutors of the Kenosha Literacy Council work tirelessly to educate adults who need help in learning to read, write and speak English. There is always something happening at the KLC!
The Kenosha Literacy Council — with three employees and more than 200 volunteers — coordinates six different ongoing programs that reach nearly 600 adult learners. Last year, we provided literacy services to students from 40 different countries. In a typical week, we provide one-on-one tutoring, drop-in tutoring, conversation classes, book club, U.S. citizenship classes and English Language Learners Civics classes.
While the KLC offices and main classrooms are located in the Uptown Library, we are very involved in the Kenosha community as a whole. Students take field trips to other library branches, hospitals, banks and more. Our staff and volunteer tutors also take literacy classes on the road: we lead classes at the Boys & Girls Club, the Kenosha County Detention Center and the Edward Bain School of Language and Arts.
At the Kenosha Literacy Council — and unlike Céline — we believe in the power of language and of being able to be an active member of the community by speaking, writing and reading English.
Here, our adult learners write their own happy endings.
For more information about the Kenosha Literacy Council and how you can get involved, visit www.kenoshalit.org or call us at 262-654-7323.
John Hogan is the board president of the Kenosha Literacy Council.