Sports offer English language learners an outlet

EDITEDA little girl took the first step off her plane and into America. She carried wrinkled letters and gifts from her friends which she had re-read numerous times. Her family lugged around 10 big boxes, three suitcases and her dog as they navigated from the airport to their hotel. She found it unreal that she was breathing the air of the new continent.

Despite all this change, one thing remained the same for her in America: sports.

The little girl is sophomore Kasumi Miyashita, who, like many other English Language Learner students, struggled with overcoming the language barrier and new culture during school.

They have found that sports give them opportunities to improve in English, make new friends and provide comfort in a new continent.

Miyashita has been swimming since age six in Japan. Her elementary school in Brookline, Lawrence did not offer swimming, but when she came to the high school, Miyashita naturally joined the swim team.

“The communication was really hard,” Miyashita said. “I think swimming helped me learn English quickly.”

Another ELL student, sophomore Danna Manor-Peleg moved to America from Israel when she was 13 and is now on the crew team.

Like Miyashita, Manor-Peleg also experienced improvement in English because of sports and has made new friends from crew.

“Most of my friends are actually from crew,” Manor-Peleg said. “It’s just because we’ve been through so much and all the races and together.”

Miyashita agreed that sports helped her with her social life.

“My teammates were really good. They helped me in many ways, so gradually I got used to the team and I really feel good about them,” Miyashita said. “By the end of the season last year and this year, I made more friends and I felt more on the team this year. I’m happy.”

According to swim coach Kim Draggoo, one of the reasons the sport benefits ELL students is because it does not rely solely on language skills and more on just swimming.

“The language is less important sometimes in the sports situation and so you can still communicate and you can still be a part of it,” Draggoo said. “You form a common language through the sport which I think is fascinating.”

Like Draggoo, Miyashita also believes that swimming offers familiarity to an ELL student.

“I feel like everywhere is the same if you’re doing sports. Everyone is really enthusiastic,” Miyashita said.

At the end of the day, swimmers are still swimmers even if they travel to the other side of the world, according to Draggoo.

“I look at my swimmers as swimmers. Everyone is doing the same work and everybody is contributing,” Draggoo said. “I think that’s the benefit of it. Everyone’s in it together, doing the same thing.”

Jennifer Sun can be contacted at [email protected]