Friday, February 21, 2014
When Maria Lemenny came to the United States in 2007, the only English word she knew was “alright.”
She first joined her husband Amadeo in Ohio, where they lived together for just under a year before moving to Summerville. Both Lemennys are originally from Romania.
The Lemennys used to have to walk everywhere. Amadeo knew English before Maria and taught her the directions “left” and “right” as they walked around town.
Now things are very different. Years after their move to Summerville, Maria’s English vocabulary has expanded. The Romania native has come to understand American currency when she goes shopping. In the past year she prepared for and earned her American citizenship and also received her driver’s license.
She accredits her success in learning the English language to her teachers in her English class, known as World Friends, at Summerville Baptist Church.
“It was hard,” Maria said. “I knew no English. Now I’m okay.”
World Friends debuted in March 2010 and Maria was the first student to enroll in the class, and proceeded to take English classes for three years. World Friends is a free English class and also offers citizenship classes.
“I understand it,” she said. “Conversation is difficult. I practice and I listen to the radio and the television, and I write.”
Maria learned English under multiple teachers including Linda Hargett, English as a Second Language director in the class. Hargett started the class to cater to Summerville residents who have come from all parts of the world. Hargett said the teachers in the class all donate their time to teach English.
The students, who have participated in the class, have come from 25 different countries.
“We have had over 90 students who have enrolled since it started,” she said. “We have about 30 enrolled right now. When they are here, they’re welcome.”
Maria works at Oscar’s Restaurant in Summerville but her profession is singing, and she is known for performing Romanian folk music.
She released a CD in 2013 under her stage name Mariana Iatagan. Amadeo is working with her to help translate some of her songs into English.
Amadeo calls his wife “the Dolly Parton of Romania.”
“She is planning to get a band together so she can sing in English,” he said.
Maria has befriended Hargett, as well as other members of Summerville Baptist Church. She bonded with her classmates, despite different ethnicities, because the one thing they could relate to was their wanting to learn the English language.
“It makes a difference when you meet people from your side of the world,” Amadeo said. “Even if they are from a different culture, because you start to have something in common.”
Amadeo and Hargett applauded Maria for working hard and studying every day on top of working.
“She was really self-motivated and accomplished a lot,” Hargett said.
Maria feels she writes and reads English best but has more confidence now when she speaks. She said one of her favorite English terms is “buy-one-get-one-free” – something likes to see when she goes shopping. In Charleston Maria has fallen in love with the azaleas and the beach.
“I miss Romania but I like America,” she said. “I miss my family.
“I thank, very much, Linda and all the teachers in the church,” she added.