The Central Valley has one of the largest Assyrian populations in the country, and Turlock is at the heart of that community. For over 20 years, a course offered by Turlock Adult School has helped to connect people with the Assyrian culture through the gift of language, free of charge.
Assyrian for Education, a local non-profit funded through donations from the Assyrian community, recently provided the funds for TAS' current session of its Conversational Assyrian course, taught by Caty Nariman. The 12-week class would typically cost $70 to $100 per person to attend, according to TAS Principal Linda Alaniz, but donations throughout the last nearly three decades have allowed family members, friends and even acquaintances of Assyrians to learn their language.
"Students are mostly ones who have married Assyrians, or are dating an Assyrian, and for some of them, it has to do with their jobs. Because this community is one of the big Assyrian communities, people who work for hospitals or banks or places like that want to know some basics of the language so they can be helpful to their clients," Nariman said.
Nariman came to the United States from Iran in 1991, and a year later was teaching Conversational Assyrian at TAS, despite knowing hardly any English herself. She began to teach herself the language while at the same time overseeing students learning Assyrian, using sticky notes around her house to learn words and using her conversations with her pupils as a learning tool.
Years later, she now speaks English fluently, and is still overjoyed every week when she sees others who are learning a language that is foreign to them.
"They're in love with reading and writing the language, and I am so amazed and just thrilled to see how these non-Assyrians have picked it up, because unfortunately, we don't have a lot of Assyrians who can read and write their own language," Nariman said.
Nariman has no lesson book to go off of, she said, instead planning all of the Conversational Assyrian classes herself. From learning the alphabet to constructing sentences and writing paragraphs, she prepares coursework that is appropriate for each individual students' level.
Turlock resident Harold George has been taking the course for three years, he said, inspired to learn the language thanks to his wife, who is Assyrian. Alyssa Sandoval said she took the class because she has friends who are Assyrian, while her classmate Cecilia Torres wanted to take advantage of learning about a new, yet familiar culture.
"Growing up in Turlock you meet a lot of Assyrian people, and it's an interesting culture so why not learn," she said.
The current Conversational Assyrian course runs until April 10, and those interested can sign up for the next course, slated to begin in the fall, by visiting (AINA www.-tu-rl).