Star Trek's Klingon Helps NYC Teachers Understand Student Struggles Learning English

Teachers at a school in Sheepshead Bay are hoping that changing their language will help change their way of thinking

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Teachers at a Brooklyn school are finding inspiration from an unlikely source: Star Trek.

They're boldly going where no educators have gone before (probably), learning "Klingon" as a way to connect to students in their classroom — as the fictional language invented for aliens serves as a reminder of everyone's humanity.

Teachers at Saint Mark Catholic Academy in Sheepshead Bay are hoping that changing their language will help change their way of thinking. They are learning a language that until fairly recently was all Greek to them.

"Unless you’re a real Star Trek fan, you’re not well versed in Klingon," said principal Mark Wilson.

It's spoken by the fictional Klingon warriors on Star Trek. But learning this foreign fictional language is helping the teachers better understand real students learning English as a second language.

Over the last few years the school has seen an influx of eastern European students — children who don't speak English at home. That includes Denys Shorodok, who came from Ukraine and for whom English is a third language.

"The teachers were coming to me (saying) I want to help my students but I don’t know how, and I wanted to help my teachers and I didn't know how. So That's when I reached out to ACES," said Wilson.

ACES — the Academic Center for English Language Studies at St. Joseph's University. It's a college program tailored to non-native English speakers. The director and assistant director created a guided professional program to help teachers put themselves in their students shoes.

"One of the key parts of empathy is tok think about what would it feel like for you if you were in the same situation," said Rania El-Badry, the assistant director of the program.

"They now are familiar with the psychology and emotions of students in the classrooms and that's some that will influence the way that they teach going forward," said program director Erica David.

Teachers were willing to be vulnerable and laugh at themselves to better understand how their students feel navigating a new language, as they acted out scenes in the foreign language.

"When you're able to act and you have the protection of character, it can help students be more bold in their speaking of a language their unfamiliar with," David said.

Teachers learning through empathy to be better teach and communicate with their students.

"It will really help out so many people that are struggling right now," said eighth grader Xenia Biro.

Victory! Or as the Klingons would say, "Qapla!"

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