Guest Blog: Marie Snider

Editor’s note: Today’s post comes to us from an experienced English as a New Language tutor, Marie Snider.

Learning a new language, especially when it is important in your life, is sometimes a very daunting and often frustrating experience. Our ESL learners at Turning Pages live in a country where English is the language spoken by the majority of people, and because of this, they feel more of a sense of urgency and a direct need to learn English. Turning Pages helps to fulfill that need while also easing the stress on students who may sometimes feel like outsiders in a very large and intimidating country.

Teaching ESL is a multi-faceted undertaking in which, to the teacher, actual teaching is one of the smaller parts to the teacher/student relationship. That’s not to say, that at any point the student is learning nothing, what I mean is proper English learning is often disguised by friendly conversation, sharing anecdotes, or discussing one’s favorite TV show. I’ve had an entire one hour lesson stem from the question “Do you know the song lyric, ‘take me on, take on me’? What does that mean?” Where did that take us? To an hour long lesson on phrasal verbs with a small emphasis on deciphering song lyrics! Without a strong rapport and understanding of each other’s cultures and personalities, teacher-student relationships would suffer numerous blocks with which good questions like the one before would not exist!

Our ESL students at Turning Pages suffer from a specific fear that is at times quite difficult to break through. Not only do they have low confidence because of their language barrier, but they also live in angst over the possibility of losing a job or even their family because of the United States’ tough immigration laws. It’s up to the teacher to ease the student’s fear, therein making them comfortable with themselves and their situation, if only for 90 minutes a week. Once a person lets down their barriers, they are much more likely to take more from the lessons, and of course enjoy language learning more. I’ve had students, who never really want to discuss their private lives, which is fine; having a rapport with someone doesn’t necessarily mean knowing everything about their family and private life. It means that they feel free to ask any question and not embarrassed to make any mistake.

Our job at Turning Pages is to teach ESL as a way to spread literacy (although most of our ESL leaners are at least partly literate in their native language). But a student can learn English whilst talking about anything and/or listening to anything, the difference comes in whether or not the topic is important to their life or close to their heart, and a healthy rapport will always make that difference.