Tuesday, October 07, 2008

'Amigos and Friends' help teach English as a second language

Twice a week this group of university students and immigrants needing help to learn English, meet and study together. They also help these immigrants learn about life here and assimilate into the community. DP

By Karolina Strack/Staff Reporter

dennews.com: Every Tuesday and Thursday night, the Newman Catholic Center fills with students and teachers. The students, or amigos, pair up with their teachers, who are called friends, and start their individual sessions as the clock strikes 10:15 p.m.

The one-on-one sessions are part of the Amigos and Friends program, which aims to teach English to immigrants. The club's "friends" are made up of the Eastern Illinois University student body, from English to Biology majors who volunteer their time twice a week and give back to the community.

The program started in 2003 when Doris Nordin, EIU Student Volunteer Center Coordinator, decided to return a favor.

"I came to the U.S. in 2002 when I got married, and that year someone helped me with my English at the Charleston Library and then I met more Latinos that asked me about learning English so we started the program," Nordin said.

The group's goals go beyond linguistics; they also help immigrants assimilate into society, give them more confidence and the ability to help themselves according, to Nordin.

Amigos and Friends have students from Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, China and Vietnam, although the number of Asian students declined due to recent transportation issues.

Although the group meets twice a week with one-on-one tutors, those who are interested are "welcome to come anytime and we will help them," Nadir said. The group is funded by the Newman Catholic Center with the idea that, "It's free and it's for the people…giving back to the community, and it's a call from God to help people and that is all we are about," Nadir said.

The friends who teach English come from all educational backgrounds and walks of life. Erica Sotelo, junior Spanish major with teacher certification, was just like some of her students. She learned English as her second language when she was nine and joined the group as a "friend" last semester.

"I was looking to get involved - I taught English as a second language before in my home town but I still think it's difficult. Teaching grammar is tough, but I get to know these people and the struggles they face. You hear about it, but here it hits home because of the relationships you form," Sotelo said.

Many of the "friends" say that one of the reasons they joined is to help others, like junior biology major Gerald Contiangco. "The idea of directly helping someone is amazing, especially when it's something beneficial like learning a language," said Contiangco.

Contiangco's "amigo," Mayra Limon, moved to Charleston from Mexico a year ago and his been attending the classes for about the same time.

"I speak more English and I learned more vocabulary. Everything is difficult for me - especially pronunciation - and the program helped me talk with people, I understand more," Limon said.

Teaching English without sharing a common language can be difficult, something that Sotelo and Contiangco agree on but try to work around. A lot of times it involves a little creativy.

"I had a Chinese student the first semester and she knew very little English. It was difficult to explain anything, so I used a lot of visual aids. I also used a Web site called livemocha.com that is interactive with visuals and sounds. The biggest challenge was teaching English to a student who spoke Spanish, but couldn't read in either language. But, you have to start small and build on things," Contiangco said.

In her seventh year of learning Spanish, Kenisha Davis, freshman Spanish major, joined the group after going to the volunteer fair and so she decided to try it.

Maria Guierrero, Charleston resident, is one of the program's success stories, according to Nordin. "I saw a sign at mass, read it and came. I went here for three years and then I went to Mattoon Adult Learning Center, and there I took English and computer classes and now I'm back to learn more," Guierrero said.

1 comment:

bluesky said...

A great site for ESL students is AIDtoCHILDREN.com.

AIDtoCHILDREN.com is a dual-purpose site for building an English
vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most
impoverished places around the world.

Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com