April 2014 – English as a Second Language

Siphon from Cambodia rubs my belly while saying, “You good teacher.” That’s what I like to hear.

It’s April, 2014 and the spring quarter of English as a Second Language (ESL) has started at the local community college. For the past two years I’ve been volunteering as a tutor in the ESL program. I’ve tutored students from Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Latin America, Southeast Asia, China and the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Eventually I’ll get my CELTA certificate (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). But for now I’m gaining invaluable experience learning how to teach English to classes of students that have no common language between them, or with me.

Our students come from big cities and small villages. Some are immigrants, some are refugees. Some know a little English, some not a word, but most already speak multiple languages. All have fascinating stories about their journey to the United States, some of them heartbreaking.

It’s amazing how fast people learn, and how much I learn about my own language in the process (English is pretty complicated as it turns out). After the first quarter almost all students can read and speak basic English. Second quarter they are conversational. By the third quarter, they are speaking English self-sufficiently. At the end of each quarter we have a potluck, everyone bringing a specialty from their homeland (I always bake an apple pie – what could be more American and the students love it).

But I have another motive for tutoring English. In a year or so we’ll be taking a long-term trip around the world and I plan to teach English as a means of supplementing our income. By then I’ll have at least three years of ESL experience and the CELTA certificate. Through my students I’m making contacts with their friends and families in countries all over the world, many of them expecting us to stay with them.

Until then I’ll continue in the ESL program, if for no other reason than it’s a lot of fun.

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