Sometimes, learning begins with a smile, a high five, and a little bit of conversation. This was the case when Mount Olivet Lutheran Church’s Friends Forever service group attended the first English as a Second Language (ESL) Social at the English Learning Center.
The ESL Social is a new opportunity for groups from the community to engage with students. Both community members and students converse around a set of questions that relate to the students’ lessons. For this pilot run, we covered healthcare topics like making appointments at the doctor’s office.
During the morning introductions and orientation, group members expressed a desire to make meaningful connections as motivation for their participation. Some wanted to get outside the suburbs where they felt there, “isn’t much diversity.” Others shared that they used to work with immigrants but had lost touch with the community after retirement.
When we entered the classroom, students greeted us with wide eyes, enthusiasm, and a little bit of nerves. They had practiced the questions beforehand with their teacher and were excited to have visitors there just to see them! Friends Forever pulled up their chairs and got down to asking questions: Have you ever taken anyone to the emergency room? How do you cancel a doctor’s appointment? How do you stay healthy?
As conversations progressed, students and community members were delighted to notice similarities in their answers. There were lots of smiles and laughs. Teacher Mary Harlow said, “I enjoyed having them come because the students really engaged and used their English. I learned how eager the students were for ‘real conversations,’ which is always a challenge when learning a foreign language.” One student commented, “I like them. I talk. I understand conversation. I don’t always understand everyone, but that day I understood everyone.”
Before finishing for the day, we headed upstairs for reflection. Individuals were struck by how often students go to urgent care for simple things that could be seen by their primary care doctors. They also noted that while they had been worried about whether or not they would be understood, the conversations mostly felt very natural.
At the end of their experience, Friends Forever walked away with a new understanding of language learning. They discovered surprising commonalities with the students and gained a greater appreciation for their hard work and persistence.