Like most of you, I’ve been stuck at home for over a year occupying myself with busy work and Netflix. When my NYC Pastor friend asked me how I am, I replied that I was feeling disconnected from doing anything really meaningful. She asked me what I wanted to do. I immediately responded without hesitation or forethought: I’d like to teach English again. She, being the ever helpful spiritual leader, asked her Spanish speaking congregation if anyone wanted to learn English on line. And so it began!
I gave lessons for free, asking only for a donation to their church. I had two classes, one for beginners and the second for more advanced English language students on Zoom.
Teaching those with very little or no background in English proved to be quite challenging, especially on Zoom. I used pictures from magazines and objects in my home. I even bought a blackboard and chalk.
These beginner students, none of whom worked, were still immersed in their native tongue and culture. Spending all their time with Spanish speaking family, friends, tv, books, magazines and newspapers with very little outside exposure proved to be a real handicap. It was a daunting task both for them and me. I didn’t want them to be so frustrated that they would dislike English. I was frustrated as well. I mean, how many times could I teach the same I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they? I had to let that class go.
On a happier note, my more advanced students are like sponges and continue to grow in knowledge and confidence. What has emerged from this is a program I created and named “Speaking English Together”. The need to practice what they are learning in a safe space became apparent. I called upon one of my retired friends and asked if she’d be interested in volunteering once a week with one of my students to just chat. And make corrections as necessary…gently of course. She is now working one-on-one with two students.
Today I have 35 English language volunteers who are speaking one hour weekly, one-on-one with their partners who want to improve their English. High school kids in Israel are talking with high school kids in PA and NJ. One Rabbi in Israel is speaking with one of the American volunteers in FL. What is transpiring from this program are cultural exchanges, friendships and living bridges as well as improved language skills. One of my students told me she is starting to think in English!
If you or anyone you know might want to participate as a volunteer or student, I can promise you this: fulfillment, purpose, fun and stress-free learning. The program is open to adults and teens. i can be reached at 973-735-3610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out our new website: www.speakingenglishtogether.org/
Miriam Seiden is a cultural explorer who loves to write about her living bridges around the world.