Cairn University School of Education invited the world to campus as they began offering free English lessons for adult learners last month. Taught by Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) students, these courses are offered weekly each Wednesday evening.
The classes are run by Marika Ravin, assistant professor in the school of education and advisor of the TESOL program. Ravin has been teaching English to non-native speakers since 2001 both domestically and abroad. In addition to help from Ravin’s daughter, Gabby, Cairn students Karina Chiang, Gabby Wright, Amy Faust, Rosetta Davis, Sunny Nipe, Jessica Hogue, and Joffrey Rosa volunteer weekly by teaching the evening’s lesson, working one-on-one with the ESL students, or watching their children.
“I’m reaching people in my own neighborhood,” said Ravin. “I’ve been passing out flyers on street corners and in stores while Mrs. Schrader has been distributing them all over lower Bucks county, and Mrs. Lao has been advertising in her church.” Mrs. Debbie Schrader and Mrs. Yesenia Lao are both academic assistants at the University in the School of Education and the School of Business and the School of Social Work respectively.
After spending several weeks advertising and praying for the classes, the program started with four students and has now doubled to eight. Before each class, the volunteer teachers make it a priority to pray for one another, the individuals coming to the classes, and the class as a whole. Ravin emphasized that God has been involved in the formation and execution of these classes—even before anyone knew that these classes would exist. “It’s His group; we are all blessed by it.”
The students have diverse experiences and backgrounds. Whether living in the United States for over 20 years or for just under two, these students are eager to refine their grammar and expand their vocabulary in their second language. With over eight volunteers to teach each week, the classroom environment allows for one-on-one mentoring. Homework assistance and tutoring are also offered to the children of the ESL students.
“What we’re offering is different than other ESL classes,” said Ravin. “I keep telling that to my TESOL students to give them confidence in their work each week. They have been working really hard to provide quality lessons for the students.” ESL courses can be extremely expensive, and they are often taught in large groups by one teacher. With the current student to mentor ratio, the adult learners in this program are able to practice English in the classroom with a native speaker. This dynamic pushes the student to speak English for the majority of their classroom time.
The value of these classes is multi-faceted. The students of the program benefit by learning practical language skills and vocabulary to improve their communication with their communities. While students in the classes are starting with basic, present tense conversations, later sessions will expand their practical knowledge. The expanded vocabulary will help these individuals in the important conversations of everyday life such as communication with their doctor or their children’s teachers.
“In the United States, English is a unifying language between cultures,” said Ravin. The class interactions so far have proven this true. Two women, one from Mexico and the other from Belarus, were able to talk about their day with each other in English. English is the bridge between cultures, and that “is what the United States is all about—unity within diversity.”
While the improvement of the students’ communication skills is the primary motivation in teaching the classes, the students are not the only ones benefiting. The teachers of these courses, who are primarily TESOL students of Cairn, are receiving real-life experience in what they learn in their own classrooms. The TESOL students rotate responsibilities in the classroom, each having experience in leading the night’s lesson or working one-on-one with the students. These classes are their initial exposure to the impact that they can make in their local communities through teaching English to those who are eager to learn.
“Overall, we just feel comfortable around each other,” said Ravin. “The teachers feel comfortable talking with the students, and the students are comfortable with answering questions and making mistakes. This environment is ideal for growth in communication and community. Everyone is needed and everyone is included. It’s a win-win.”
The classes will run until June, break for summer, and begin again in August when students return to campus. Based on the structure of this program, students can test in and begin at any point during the year.
If you’re an adult who is interesting in learning or improving your English, register at cairn.edu/CELP.
For those interested in teaching, contact Marika Ravin at email@example.com.