Monday, September 22, 2008

I Just Met a Girl Named Maria

Well, last week I met Maria, the woman who has been assigned yours truly as an ESL tutor. Becoming an ESL tutor has been a dream of mine ever since my early college days when a guy brought me along with him as a date to a fraternity “exchange” with a bunch of kids who didn’t speak English. I LOVED mingling with these kids, laughing as we tried to understand each other. (Didn’t love my date, though.)

So I knew I wanted to tutor ESL. I went through a rigorous (about 30 hours) training that also required me to shell out money in order to become one, and then I waited several months for a “match.” (Don’t know what the delay was—apparently the people who want help sit on that waiting list for years sometimes.) As you know, I've been trying to teach myself Spanish because I have always been particularly drawn to Hispanic people. So naturally I hoped for a Hispanic student. I was very happy when I went to my match-meeting and met Maria.

Maria is from Mexico—some city that I can’t pronounce or figure out. She has been in America for four years and knows almost no English. It’s amazing how insulated some of the areas of the city are—she can pretty much do whatever she wants because so many places in West Valley speak Spanish. (I wonder if she’s one of my husband’s patients . . . ? He practices in West Valley and has many Latino patients. I’ll have to find out.) But her kids are in the school system and doing well in English and I guess she’s eager to assimilate as well.

I can’t express the admiration I feel for someone being brave enough to step out of her comfort zone and learn a new language like this. She really could go her whole life without English, but she won’t. Statistics say it will take her at least four years, if not more, to really be speaking and understanding well, especially if she continues to speak Spanish at home and around the community. So this will be a long, slow process for her. But she's determined enough to get herself to the ESL center and go through the testing and sit on the waiting list. And determined enough to get to the library twice a week to meet me.

As with my fears regarding homeschooling, I am mostly afraid of failing her by leaving loopholes. But, also as with homeschooling, I think that she will be OK anyway. She’s got enough interest and drive that when she encounters something I might have left out, she’ll ask. I think my job is just to be patient and positive and show up and talk with her. (I do, however, prepare a curriculum each time.)

Maria brings her two-year-old son with her to our meetings. And I got a fantastic idea over the weekend: I will bring children’s books (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) and have Maria read them to her son for part of our time together. Ha ha! That way she doesn’t feel like I’m treating her like a child with baby books but she’ll get the same benefits that any child gets from such repetitive picture books. I may even give her the books to keep. (We have so many that P. has outgrown.) Ooooh, and I’ll bring along the alphabet puzzle, too. And the number puzzle. Ahh, I’m a genius.

This whole thing just delights me. I am so happy to be able to do it.


rofoyo said...

I'm glad you finally get to do it. I'm proud of you. You have always been such a "blue" and have had so much desire to help others. This will be a fun way for you to help, make a difference and maybe even improve your spanish a little along the way. What a great woman! I should marry you!

Michelle said...

Wow. This is fantastic. I may be recruiting you to write about it on this Refugee Connection Blog that I've been ignoring.

I LOVE the children's book idea!

Anonymous said...

When you compare this to homeschooling, it's just theoretical, right? (As in, you haven't homeschooled because of those fears, but you ARE tutoring in spite of the fears?)

Great idea about the picture books. Just don't try to use a gossip magazine like People for reading material -- I tried that in Jordan (as in Jordan in the Middle East, not Jordan Utah) and discovered that those magazines use surprisingly complex grammar and vocabulary. (Also, these particular middle-aged wealthy Jordanian women weren't very interested in American celebrities. They didn't really seem very interested in learning English, for that matter, other than that it was a trendy thing to try out for a little while, and quit as soon as it was at all challenging.)

('Cause it couldn't have been that I was a lousy tutor, right?)

Good luck with the tutoring -- sounds like a great project.

Jane said...

Wait, isn't rofoyo married to you already??? What a smart guy he is! What an exciting opportunity for you, Darlene. Great idea about the children's books and puzzles!!!