Pop Quiz! How many of you could fill in this map without looking up any of the answers? Are you certain you can spell the state names correctly? How about the abbreviations? The Capital Cities? I hear moans and groans coming from the audience. "Hey Lady! I haven't had to do this since 4th grade geography class! Give me a break!" I get it.
One of my ESL students wants to learn all of the states, all of their abbreviations and their capitals. This is not just learning English. She wants to learn America. And America ain't easy!
As a kid, my family criss-crossed this country many times by car. And back then we used maps. Real paper maps. The ones that are tricky to re-fold once opened. The ones that were so huge they took up the entire front seat of the car when they were unfolded. One side of the map was the map of the state you were currently in and the other side were blow ups of major cities with street names and important places labeled. The detail was incredible. There were routes and alternate routes and even more alternate routes than that! All bodies of water and mountains, no matter how large or small were on the map and once I got the hang of what all of the little coloured lines meant, easy peasy to follow. I loved being map girl.
I enjoyed following along as the car cruised down the highway, reading the names of surrounding towns. It was a hoot to find funny names, hard-to-pronounce names, interesting names or sometimes our names along the way. I still get a kick out of driving through a new town and seeing Tim's Car Care or Sam's Bar & Grill as we pass by.
By the time I was a grown adult, I probably knew my way around this country better than most people because I had actually been in most of the states. I could visualize what the cities looked like and there they were in relation to other cities or states. I knew that Montana was north and New Mexico was South West, that New Hampshire was the one on the right and Vermont the one on the left as you drive from Connecticut to Maine. I knew that it took forever to drive across Texas laterally and Arizona had a whole lot of nothing in it and Kansas and Nebraska were mostly corn and wheat fields broken up with the occasional cow. I knew what it was like to drive across the flat desert seeing the mountains in the distance for what felt like eternity and then the exhilarating terror driving through those mountains. I knew all of that and more. But I'm still finding that occasionally I have to check to be sure that I am remembering correctly.
And now I'm working with someone who is struggling but determined and I am so impressed by her. Quickly, how many "N's" in Pennsylvania or "S's" in Mississippi and Tennessee? She was baffled that Mississippi was not just a state but also a river. Spelling Ohio was a treat after Connecticut and Massachusetts. But she wondered why Wyoming starts with a "W" and not a "Y"? And why on earth is Rhode Island not an actual Island? How come Michigan is in two separate parts but still one state? Good questions! Sometimes I knew the answer, sometimes I didn't. And when I didn't, we looked it up and now we both know.
Do you know all of the state abbreviations? They can be tricky, especially the "M's". MI equals Michigan but Mississippi is MS and Missouri is MO (that was was really hard for her to remember), MA is Massachusetts - that's not so bad. MT is Montana and ME is Maine, okay take a breath. That is a lot of "M's" to remember.
And then there are the capital cities. I get turned around on those sometimes myself. Often the largest and therefore more familiar city name is NOT the capital so I have to question myself before I try to teach her incorrectly. For instance, I know perfectly well that the capital city of Louisiana is Baton Rouge but I always want to say that it's New Orleans. I know it's not true, but that is the first city in LA that comes to my mind, every time. And then too I often get mixed up on the capitals of North and South Dakota. I can never remember which capital belongs to which Dakota; Pierre and Bismarck.
I know that Massachusetts means "Large Hill Place" it being an Algonquin word and that Tennessee means either "Meeting Place" or "Winding River" and it's origins are either Cherokee or Yuchi. I remembered that the Carolinas were named in 1729 to honor Charles IX of France and Charles I and II of England (Carolina being the feminine form of Charles). I knew that Florida was named by Ponce de Leon "Las Floridas" meaning "The Flowers" for the abundance of them that he found here. But I didn't remember that Nevada was the Spanish word for "snow covered" in reference to the Sierra Nevada mountains or that Iowa was named after the local Native American tribe "Ayuxwa". So my student and I are learning together.
It's honestly a little embarrassing to not know the answer to questions asked about my own country. Especially since, relatively speaking, we are a young country with again, a relatively brief history. But it's also a very big country. There is a lot to know.
So my student is learning for the first time and I am getting a refresher course. I've always believed that the best way to learn is to teach. Turns out I was right.
I love being right.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.