The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 14, 2012

Learning the language

English classes offer benefits for students, their teachers, as well

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — When a lack of funding forced the dissolution of Enid Literacy Council in 2010, the community lost one of its main sources for English as a second language instruction.

Volunteers at Emmanuel Baptist Church stepped up to fill that gap with free ESL instruction last January, and now they have hopes of expanding the program to better serve the community.

ESL instruction also is available through Carver Educational Center, an Enid Public Schools facility.

But, the dissolution of Enid Literacy Council ended a program that served as many as 50 students at a time with a nearly constant waiting list.

“We always had a waiting list for the ESL tutoring, and there’s a lot of interest and need for it in the community,” said Mona Loewen, who served as chairwoman of the Enid Literacy Council board of directors before its dissolution in 2010.

“We weren’t able to continue with Enid Literacy Council, but the need for ESL tutoring was still there,” she said. “So, I decided since I’m a member at Emmanuel, the church might have the resources, and we could start tutoring English there.”

After consulting the church pastors, Loewen, along with volunteers Brenda Wells and Linda Whipple, began offering free ESL tutoring Tuesday evenings at the church.

The program has grown to serve about 20 students at a time, with 10 to 12 volunteer tutors.

Loewen said the program predominantly serves Spanish-speaking students but also has served students from Brazil, India, Japan, Korea, Ethiopa, Iran, Myan-mar, Marshall Islands and China.

“The need in our community is very diverse, and there are a lot of nationalities represented here,” Loewen said. “We try to tailor the program to their specific needs. We look at their level, and some of them speak absolutely no English.”

And, for the most part, the tutors do not speak their students’ native languages.

“When someone talks to me about volunteering as a tutor, they always ask, ‘Do I need to be able to speak Spanish?’ I ask them, ‘How would Spanish help you if your student is from China?’”

Rather than speak both in English and the students’ native language, the tutors rely on pictures and visual aids paired with related written and spoken words in English.

By using visual cues and immersion teaching techniques, the tutors are able to instruct students from diverse language backgrounds in the same session, without having to speak the students’ native language.

“It is a common misconception that you need to be able to speak the other language to tutor someone in English,” said Emmanuel ESL course coordinator Wells. “Anybody who can speak English and who has a heart for people can come in and help out.”

Tutors use the Oxford English picture dictionary and Laubach teaching system, a widely used ESL technique based on phonics and visual aids.

Wells said pairing visual cues with written and spoken words allows the students to learn English “the same way we all learned.”

“Just like we didn’t know English when we started out, they’re able to learn English here in much the same way,” she said.

And, not being able to speak the students’ language facilitates that learning process.

“It’s a long process, but in some ways it’s a better learning process, even though it’s harder,” Wells said. “In some ways it actually helps to have that language barrier, because you’re not tempted to slip into their language.”

Each tutoring session begins with all the students and tutors in one large group. Then, groups are divided based on students’ needs and aptitude.

“We try to match the students and their needs with the tutor, and keep the group sizes as small as possible, but we are flexible if a family wants to stay together,” Wells said.

Enrollment always is open at Emmanuel’s ESL tutoring program. Students of any skill level can join at any time.

“Our students are free to come as long as they need, and we will continue to tutor them as long as they want to come,” Wells said.

The tutoring program has grown since its inception last year but still is limited by the number of volunteer tutors.

“We would love to expand the program, but it’s just a matter of the time and volunteers that would be required to implement that,” Wells said.

Loewen said members of area churches are welcome to volunteer for the ESL tutoring program. For those who volunteer, Loewen said the program can be “very rewarding.”

“It’s almost like being able to travel to another country to meet these people and learn about other cultures and languages,” Loewen said.

“I just love to do it, and I really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s something you can do where you really know you’re helping someone. It’s a basic need to be able to communicate, and when you’re helping them with language needs you’re helping them with their other needs as well.”

The ESL tutoring sessions are 6:30-8:30 p.m. every Tuesday at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 2505 W. Garriott. Child care is available at the church during the tutoring sessions.

For information or to volunteer, contact Wells at the Emmanuel Baptist Church office, 237-0602.