By Sandra Hackman
As a community that has long valued economic and cultural diversity, Bedford is home to growing numbers of people born in other countries—reflecting the expanding role of immigrants in our region and state. These new residents are a linchpin of our area’s vitality, starting and staffing a range of businesses while enriching our quality of life. However, to succeed in their new life in the Boston suburbs and beyond, many need to strengthen their English language skills.
English at Large (EAL),a nonprofit based in Woburn, matches English language learners with tutors in 21 area communities, including Bedford. In fact, several town residents are among the 185 people who served as EAL volunteers in 2015, while other local residents are among the more than 400 adult learners participating in EAL programs.
Tutors and learners meet one-on-one each week at an area library and or other public venue for about two hours at a time of their choosing. Rather than relying on textbooks, EAL trains tutors to tailor their teaching to a learner’s existing language skills,life experiences, and personal goals. After the initial nine-hour training, EAL also hosts workshops to continue to expand tutors’ skills, while staff members offer them individualized ideas and resources.EAL also encourages tutors in local communities to meet for mutual support.
As a volunteer tutor trained and supported through EAL, I can attest that the organization’s approach is both highly effective and greatly rewarding. For the past six months I have been tutoring a Nepali woman who has lived in our area for three years. A nurse in her native Nepal, Krishna is now working as a certified nursing assistant in a nursing home. Although she received her nursing training in English, the transition to speaking it on the job is challenging. Krishna is also working toward taking the nurse licensing exam so she can practice her profession here. Having gained the chance to move to this country through the “diversity lottery,” she and her husband greatly value the opportunity to educate their five-year-old son in area schools while contributing their skills to the local economy.
Krishna is one of the smartest, kindest, and most motivated people I have ever met, and the opportunity to work together is a joy. The work is creative and challenging but not particularly stressful: an ideal combination. Our meetings encompass U.S. history and culture as well as speaking, reading, and writing.
Learners can also join any of more than two dozen conversation groups led by EAL-trained leaders—including one new group that prepares participants to apply for jobs. Says Carol Long, a Bedford resident and conversation group leader, “I really love to see people who don’t otherwise have peers come together. Group members become friends, and ask basic questions about U.S. culture that native-born residents take for granted.”
The need for more one-on-one tutors is great: learners must wait more than a year before being matched with a tutor. In fact, seven Bedford residents are on the waitlist. If the idea of participating in such a rewarding endeavor sounds enticing, please check out the EAL website (englishatlarge.org), and consider joining the community of people who are helping to ensure that our neighbors newly arrived from other countries can thrive.