Toying With New Tongues: Learning Languages
Two years ago Jim Goodridge started tutoring students in English as a Second Language (ESL). What started as a volunteer job turned into a full-time position at the Westside Employment Education Center on the campus of St. Ignatius Prep School. He grew to love what he was doing opening new doors and opportunities with the simple gift of language. How empowering! Then he discovered something. Not only did he enjoy what he was doing, but what about putting the shoe on the other foot? He decided to start taking Spanish lessons at the Instituto Cervantes Chicago.
Most of my students speak Spanish and I wanted to communicate better with them, he said. Its hard to learn a language and I found that my students respect that I want to learn their language, too. Not only can he appreciate their work but he said his students respect him for making the effort.
Goodridges enthusiasm spread to his home. His wife, Joan, who hadnt taken any classes since high school decided to start taking lessons. We practice at home. And he acknowledged, We even watch Spanish TV and listen to the Spanish radio station when were in the car.
At the present time in our history, when boundaries between countries and cultures are rapidly giving way to a new global community, the need to understand different cultures is becoming more apparent as is the need for the ability to understand and speak more than one language.
Most formal education in the U.S. only offers second language classes in high school, but its never too late to learn.
Learning a new language can be done for many reasons: you moved from Mexico to Chicago . . . you are marrying someone from Germany . . . your job is taking you overseas . . . you want to be able to understand the architects who are building your summer home in France . . . you adopt a child from China . . . you want to be able to order food in Spain and be able to identify what youre eating whatever the reasons, the resources here are plenty. Chicago is truly a melting pot of the midwest with a plethora of language opportunities.
Ten years ago Eddy Gonzalez moved here from Guatemala and now resides in Des Plaines. Even though he had a degree in Graphic Design and Advertising from his native land, he only knew a little bit of English so he was unable to find a job in his profession. He took free night classes at the Lakeview Learning Center for a couple of years and earned a living as a truck driver.
The first few classes had more students and I remember they were hard to get into because there werent enough teachers, he recalled. For me, the hardest part of learning English was the vocabulary and the pronunciation. And then there were simple things most people take for granted like taking public transportation and knowing which stop to get off. He remembered one particular ride. I was even nervous to take a bus because the driver spoke so fast. They announced Addison but I wasnt sure it was Addison.
Gonzalez stuck with the classes and gained confidence. As soon as I felt comfortable, I went to Wright College and got a computer degree. His English improved steadily and today hes got a new goal, Im working on my bachelors degree in economics at Northeastern and eventually Id like to get a PhD.
Determination is a characteristic of many students. Learning a new language can be daunting but there are a few key factors to successful learning, in addition to making sure the program is reputable and has qualified teachers:
1) Smaller class sizes are better.
Susan Pezzino, who has been teaching for more than 20 years, limits her class size to six people. Having a small class size offers the highest quality level, she said.
2) Have fun!
Having fun in class is just as important for adults as it is for kids.
I remember the teacher had us singing, Under the Boardwalk recalled Gonzales as he sang the first stanza. That was fun, he said, because we learned English and it was something we could relate to. Clint Hughes, director of Intrax English Institute, has a high energy level and his enthusiasm (even from a phone conversation) is apparent. Check out their April activity calendar and youll see these fun events Free Day at the Art Institute; Movie Day includes The Eye (Cantonese/Mandarin) and All About My Mother (Spanish); and they even go to out to hear jazz together.
Flexibility is necessary when students are juggling busy schedules, jobs, and families. The Intrax Institute of Chicago, located in the Loop, offers a rolling enrollment. You dont have to wait, said Hughes, noting that many academic institutions wont let you join a class midsemester. Or in the case with Pezzinos private classes, I can schedule [classes] for day learners or at nighttime, and, she added, You dont have a vacation gap, like college. Its ongoing throughout the year. The benefit of this is that the learning process is not interrupted.
This past summer I was hanging out with my nieces, aged six and four, and they started bragging about what they knew and it turned into, Well, I can count in Spanish! You can? I asked. In unison they both started counting, Uno, dos, tres, quatro cinco, seis . . . all the way up to twenty. I was very impressed. I dont remember learning Spanish in grade school but, more schools are incorporating foreign languages as they recognize the many benefits.
This article appeared originally in the Summer 2003 issue of Chicago Learning Guide Magazine.