WUOMFM

"Talk Time" uses conversation to help immigrants adapt

Feb 3, 2016

Ruth Bengtsen (center), the facilitator of "Talk Time" at the Troy Public Library, sits with some participants of the program.
Credit Photo courtesy of the Troy Public Library

Immigrating to the United States is not easy. Luckily for those who are making a new life in Southeast Michigan and are trying to learn the often difficult language of English, “Talk Time” is available every Saturday morning at the Troy Public Library.

“It’s just a matter of making them feel comfortable here,” says Ruth Bengtsen, a volunteer tutor at Talk Time. “I tell them if they can communicate with whatever words, to do so. Not worry about the grammar and being correct all the time.”

The people who attend this weekly program, who come from all over the globe, are not there to be lectured to, like in a traditional classroom setting. It also isn’t an English-as-a-second-language class, either. The way Bengtsen describes it, it’s just an interaction between people.

The topics that are discussed during each two-hour session are all over the map. Bengtsen says they cover history, culture, superstition, famous people, favorite places, politics, and more.

“It varies each time you ask the question,” Bengtsen said.

Bengtsen appreciates the challenges that immigrants face while trying to adapt to American culture. Years ago, her parents were in their shoes, as they were both born outside of the United States.

“I think they are courageous and brave people,” said Bengtsen. “To leave a home country where maybe their family still is or conditions have certainly changed, and I tell them I think they are courageous for setting out and coming to the United States.”

When looking at the percentage of foreign-born residents in Southeast Michigan cities, Troy is second only to Hamtramck. Nearly 28% of its residents have moved from foreign countries, which makes the work that Talk Time has done over the last two decades that much more important.

Listen to the full interview to hear more about how Bengtsen got involved with the program and the challenges of getting people from vastly different countries to talk to each other.