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.