This morning I woke up and remembered teaching “The Irish Wedding Song” to my adult English as a students in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I smiled at the memories. “There they Second Language stand, hand in hand…”
These newcomers hailed from mostly from Vietnam, Cambodia and Haiti and were brought to Camden by USCC—U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an organization that helps refugees.
Some students had arrived a few days from their country or a refugee camp and some had stayed in the class for a year or so.
Can you imagine the different levels of English? Always a challenge for this teacher… Add to that different cultures, countries, levels of education and ages!
Even more daunting was the constant changing of faces, constant entrance and exit of students—new people arrived shyly and tired, often unexpectedly for me. Students left unexpectedly to move to other parts of the country or to go to work or to go to college or to technical schools.
Every March I made a week of lessons about St. Patrick’s Day. Sounds crazy, but it was fun and brightened up the often dull and depressing lives of newcomers in Camden…
I told my students that my ancestors were German and Irish. I explained that many Irish had worked and lived right here in Camden. Many came to Camden to build railroads and others to work in the factories. Others came as clergy. My students from Asia and the Caribbean felt included in the long line of people who came to Camden to start a new life.
Frankly, initially, shamefully, I didn’t know much about the Irish, but I did a bit of research. I found “The Irish Wedding Song” and hand printed the lyrics and copied them for the students to read. I bought a CD with the music and hoped this idea wasn’t too corny.
But, he relatively simple English words and the sweet sentiments made the song a hit. It brought back memories of their own weddings or weddings that they’d attended in their own countries.
“Here they stand, hand in hand, they’ve exchanged wedding bands today is the day of their dreams and their plans and all we who love them just wanted to say. May God bless this couple who married today.”
I made up “Irish Bingo” and I taught words that they could use in their lives in the USA: green, potatoes, dreams, plans, work, music, wedding, religion, politics, immigration, country of origin.
We had a St. Patty’s Day party with chips and pretzels and soda and we sang “The Irish Wedding Song” in Camden, New Jersey.
A few years later, I bumped into one of my older Vietnamese students who told me that he was working in a factory. “I have something nice to tell you, Teacher,” he said.
“My boss is Irish. I sang him “The Irish Wedding Song.”