Meet the Student: “Grandfather Karna” Part 1

English Instructor, Laura Smith-Hill, and her student, Karna Mongar

English Instructor, Laura Smith-Hill, and her student, Karna Mongar

We would like to introduce you to one of our students here at the LSS Center for New Americans- Karna Mongar, also known as “Grandfather Karna.” Karna makes an impression on everyone who has the opportunity to meet him.

Karna came to America from Nepal in August of 2012 . He is originally from Bhutan.

Now, he takes the bus to our center for English Classes daily, Monday through Thursday from 10 to noon. Karna, the most senior student in class, is always able to quickly complete the task at hand whether it is speaking, reading or writing in English. Sometimes, when he’s in an especially chipper mood he will quietly sing a traditional song in his native tongue – Nepali. Everyday after class, he chats with his teachers, says “Boli aunsu” (“I will come tomorrow,” in Nepali) and gives them a heaping handful of Halls cough drops. Now I have two bags and a bowl overflowing with cough drops in my office, but Karna won’t take “no” for an answer. He maintains this daily ritual as faithfully as he comes to class.

Karna is relentless in his desire to communicate with everyone he sees. He will use all the English he knows and when he runs out of English vocabulary he will continue in Nepali, whether the listener can understand him or not. When we don’t understand him, his smile, teasing expression and the laughter from his classmates bear evidence that Karna has a great sense of humor.

I teach Karna in a beginning literacy class. One day, I came into the classroom to find him standing at the whiteboard addressing his classmates. He told me, “Today Karna Teacher. Nepali Teacher! (unintelligible Nepali words followed by) Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, Dzongkha, China!”

I didn’t need to know Nepali to understand he was showing off the list of languages he can speak.

Of course, I smiled – “OK. No problem. Today, Teacher Karna. No Teacher Laura. Teacher Laura is a student today!” As I moved to sit in his regular seat at the table, Karna turned the classroom back over to me.

Karna has piqued my curiosity with his brief English-Nepali stories. It is surprising how much you can understand from someone using 50% English and 50% of their native language supplemented with gestures and facial expressions.

After class, Karna shared a little anecdote with me. He repeated his list of languages, marched like a soldier and mimed a rifle in his arms while speaking Nepali. So I understood that in addition to some English, Karna speaks five other languages and this has something to do with him being a soldier of some kind back in Bhutan.

I wanted to learn more so I asked my co-worker, Deo Rai, to be our translator for a little interview. Stay tuned for next week’s blog from the Center for New Americans program for the results of our interview with “Grandfather Karna!”


written by Laura Smith-Hill, English Instructor

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