As the summer ends, we are highlighting some of the students who took classes in our Summer Language Workshop. Today’s interview is with Molly Milazzo.
What language are you studying?
I’m studying Pashto, which is spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as smaller Afghan/Pakistani populations around the world.
Why did you decide to enroll in the Summer Language Workshop?
I live and work in areas with large populations of newly-arrived Afghans. Many speak Pashto, and it’s incredibly difficult to find a) local resources in the language (official forms, videos, etc.), and b) interpreters who are bilingual in Pashto and English. I already knew a fair amount of Dari (Afghanistan’s second official language) and had been studying Pashto independently, but I craved a more structured learning environment. IU’s Summer Language Workshop was the most cost-effective one I found. There are very few such opportunities to learn Pashto anywhere in the U.S., much less ones that are affordable, online, and run through a university.
Could you say a little more about your work with this community?
I work with newly-arrived Afghans in a few ways. One is as a librarian (helping navigate library spaces and collections, building partnerships, referring patrons to community resources), and another is as a volunteer (reviewing paperwork, making/transporting people to appointments, connecting with local agencies). I’ve been doing this in earnest since 2017. Given the relationships I’ve developed with these communities, it only made sense for me to learn as much as I could about languages in Afghanistan.
One of the things Afghan families are most concerned with is making sure their younger members keep hold of their native languages, including Pashto. At the same time, a not-insignificant part of my job is encouraging parents, grandparents, etc. in our diverse communities to speak to their children in the language(s) they know best. Learning as much as I can about those languages and how they exist in the world is part of “walking the talk,” in addition to developing relevant collections in the library, forging relationships with organizations that also serve these community members, and bringing in said community members as speakers, interns, volunteers, and more. Along with keeping my privileges in check and avoiding a “white savior”-esque narrative, I believe that knowing Pashto is part of what I can do to help Pashto-speaking families thrive in their new surroundings.
How has the experience of the Summer Language Workshop been?
It’s been very positive. I love that the emphasis is more on the learning process rather than getting the “correct answer” the first time around. This approach, as well as the overall structure of the lessons, makes me much more comfortable with asking questions, and I know I’m picking up a lot more because of it. The instructor is a native speaker of Pashto and seems at ease teaching students at multiple levels. I also like that the class is small (six students, including myself). I look forward to every session and hope that IU considers hosting more Language Workshops online in the future, and/or a more advanced online Pashto course.
What has surprised you about the Summer Language Workshop?
How much I’m getting to speak and listen in Pashto, as opposed to the focus that my previous classroom language courses had put on reading and writing. The Language Workshop staff are also the most responsive I’ve ever dealt with – a very pleasant surprise!
What do you hope to do with the language skills you’ve learned?
With my newly-acquired Pashto skills, I’ll be able to more directly and immediately assist people in my community, both in my job and through volunteer work.