My new roommate is Iraqi, who has pretty good listening comprehension for 2 years of immersion. He's in a native-level writing class, but I've discovered that ESL classes often do a pretty poor job at reinforcing spoken language foundations (pretty important as the spoken language IS the language). One thing that wasn't emphasised in class was the pretty important phenomenon of English stress.... in fact it's not covered in non-ESL classrooms either, excepting linguistic classrooms.
Sometimes I feel that the pedagogy of English language classes are still stuck in the era before the Great Vowel Shift of the 17th century ... in the high school classroom there's no discussion of diphthongs, vowel quality versus historic vowel length. I bet the long/short vowel distinction confuses the hell out of native speaker children too. HEY look guys -- English doesn't have five vowels. It has at least thirteen vowel phonemes (some dialects have as many as seventeen). It has five vowel LETTERS to represent the vowel phonemes with. If you analyse the "long vowels" as combinations of two vowels or a vowel + semivowel, then you could theoretically reduce the English phonetic vowel inventory to eight vowels. (And then only if you make a lot of mergers ... like if you think "plus" and "the" have the same vowel quality, after ignoring stress.)
So anyway .... there's an Iraqi refugee community here in Charlottesville, but they're pretty invisible to the public. One thing I've found to be potentially quite useful for both teaching English writing and having something of mutual interest to talk about is Riverbend's blog on the war ... as a very good (and sometimes biting) English writer and an Iraqi refugee, she makes useful talking points, even though she hasn't written a new post in almost two years.
Yesterday was a somewhat good day. After a curious day out, and enjoying someone else's good cooking, it struck me as I lay down on the couch, looking at my absurdly long legs, how much I've changed. Well okay, duh right?? I mean haven't I written like 20 posts on the idea already? But visiting the homes of some other members of the refugee community I was suddenly reminded of HDB flats and the ambitions and mindset I had when I was 14 and in Singapore. And now I've almost abandoned and given up hope on Singapore, even defending the merits of living in America compared to living in Europe. I've grown up into exactly what I thought I wouldn't be.