A West African Proverb: A Life-Lesson from Your Own Hand

I have the privilege of teaching an English class for high-beginning adult English learners. The beauty of teaching adult learners is that the teaching goes both ways.

While I facilitate my students’ language learning, I feel they teach me more. They teach me about their cultures, their perspectives and values. They teach me from their wealth of experiences and their own living examples of perseverance.

Here’s an example.

Last week I started a unit on Health for Community Living. As we reviewed vocabulary for the parts of the body, my students were most curious and enthralled to learn the unique English names for each finger. The pinky finger takes the prize for evoking the most giggles and smiles!

Body part lesson

Adult English Class students at the LSS Center for New Americans review vocabulary about parts of the body.


As I taught them this finger vocabulary, one student with especially sophisticated speaking skills taught all of us a proverb from her native country of Guinea, in West Africa. Here is the gist of her lesson within our English lesson.

In Guinea, when someone is having conflict with others we remind him about the fingers on his hand. These fingers were not created the same, we say. Some are big, some are small. God created them that way. Just like people. Some are big, some are small, some are rich, some are poor, but God created us that way.

When we share this saying with people, they cool down.


A few of the morning English Class 2 students pose to remind us each hand and finger is created to be different; just as we were created to be unique individuals.


This little proverb reminds us that in the midst of disagreement – and  sometimes  conflict – we can have peace when we remember we were created to be different after all. Like the contrasting landscapes we see driving across the United States, the variety expressed through the people of our nation also makes this a nation that was created to be beautiful in its diversity.

If you are interested in both supporting and learning from adult English learners in our community, contact Kristyne Walth to ask about becoming a classroom volunteer or a family mentor at Kristyne.Walth@lsssd.org

Written by Laura Smith-Hill, Education Program Coordinator for the Center for New Americans

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