In the summer of 2009 I found myself living in Naples, Florida. I was there as an intern on the copy desk at The Naples Daily News. Mere weeks before I had returned from a semester abroad in Ireland. I found myself trading the rainbows and rolling green fields for sandy beaches and foam-tipped waves.
However, copy editors’ hours are not always the kindest, and I found myself working from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday-Saturday for the whole summer. Having the days to myself were nice, but after a while I needed something to fill up the afternoons. After searching for volunteer opportunities in the newspaper where I worked, I found a listing asking for help at the local literacy council. I went in a spoke with Ingrid, the young woman working behind the desk at the council’s office. She told me I was not going to be in Naples long enough to become a tutor, but they still needed someone to help organize their library and monitor the computer lab on Saturday mornings.
For the next three months I created an Excel spreadsheet detailing the 500+ books in their library and spent Saturday mornings from 10-2 helping ESL students use the council’s computer lab.
And I knew from the day I walked through the council’s doors that I wanted to teach ESL. And now I have my chance.
After 16 1/2 hours of tutor training through the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, I have been certified as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) tutor. My student is a 36-year-old woman from Thailand who lives in Virginia with her husband. Both work at Thai restaurants. She speaks very little English, but seems enthusiastic to learn. I hope am I able to help her learn the language and make her life in America easier.
It’s a bit daunting, to be honest. I’ve never taught anyone English before, let alone anything else. Where do I start? How will I get through the language barrier? The training classes I feel have prepared me well, but it’s a whole different ballpark when you’re actually sitting down with someone for the first time. All I can do is find out why my student wants to speak English and help her learn what to say in day-to-day situations including traveling through the city, shopping and going to the bank. Reading and writing will wait until she has a better grasp of comprehension, speaking and pronunciation. I was pleased to learn she knows her ABCs and can write her own name.
I have to remember that small steps are the greatest successes when teaching someone a new language.