Recently, I wrote about how teaching English is a significant way you can share your power, your life, and perhaps even the Gospel. But even if you are unable to commit to teaching English in a classroom setting, you can still teach through personal relationships! Here are a few examples, from highest to lowest commitment level.
1. Conversation partners – If you’re learning a language—suppose you’re learning Thai—you could find a native Thai speaker who wants to improve her English skills and meet regularly to talk. My mother is a great example of this: for years she has been learning Spanish. She started out self-teaching with books and CDs, but a year in, she met a Hispanic woman who wanted to improve her English. So they started meeting weekly to converse in English and Spanish. It’s been three years, and her first conversation partner has since moved, but my mom has been able to continue meeting with other Spanish-speaking women to work on her Spanish and help them work on their English. Although it wasn’t her original goal, she’s also been able to help her conversation partners find what they need (medical services, sports leagues, etc). And everyone has improved their second language skills!
If this sounds interesting, your biggest challenge may actually be making the contacts. You could start by contacting the teachers of adult ESL classes in your area, or by looking for churches in your area that are composed of people who speak your target language.
2. Editing a friend’s papers – If you know a student who’s a non-native English speaker, they may appreciate having a native English speaker read over their papers. You don’t have to be a grammarian! As a native speaker, you have an ear for what sounds “right” and what doesn’t. Caveat lector: Don’t assume that your English-learner friend needs an editor just because they struggle to converse fluently. Some countries’ English classes major in oral language, but most focus more on literacy, so that many international students are stronger in reading and writing than they are in conversation. So don’t assume—politely ask. And if he or she needs help that’s beyond your abilities, many universities have writing centers that students can visit for free help.
3. One-to-one Bible reading – Some church-based ESOL classes host Bible studies before or after their classes, or use the Bible as one of their reading texts. If you know someone who’s interested in the Bible and wants to improve their English, you could meet with them to read and discuss a book of the Bible. If that sounds terrifying, it doesn’t have to be! Reading the Bible with someone is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to learn from a mature Christian, encourage a new Christian, and share Jesus with someone who’s not a Christian. David Helm has written a wonderful little book on this topic (Kindle / paperback), and there’s also free videos of the same content.
My only ESOL-specific advice is this: make sure the Bible translation you’re using is well matched to your friend’s reading ability. A bilingual Bible is usually helpful, but do your research on the non-English translation. (Some Chinese and Spanish translations are quite old and difficult to understand.) As English translations go, I recommend the following for English learners, in order from more to less complex: the NIV, the NLT, the CEV, and the NIRV. You can compare them here.
4. Hosting a non-native English speaker – Maybe you’ve read this far, and everything seems like too much of a commitment! Well then, this one’s for you: you could host a traveler. How? Through couchsurfing.org, of course! This remarkable website enables people to host and be hosted all around the world. I used it extensively when I was a student in central Europe, and I’ve hosted a few people here in Baltimore in years since. Here’s how it works. If you don’t have room in your place to host anyone overnight, that’s okay—plenty of travelers are happy just to meet for drinks or a meal. It’s a great way to show hospitality.
You may be wondering: what about plain old friendship? I don’t include it in this list of “ways to teach English” because genuine friendship is not a means to an end, it’s an end in itself. In fact, you could say that it’s a goal, or at least a possible outcome, of any one of these contexts. If you throw yourself into any one of these ways of sharing your power, of loving your neighbor, you will not emerge unchanged.
If you can think of any ways of teaching English that I’ve missed, please share them in the comments!
Victor King teaches ESOL for Carroll County Public Schools and Towson University. He lives and plays in Baltimore with his wife and their daughters. They worship at Faith Christian Fellowship, where he is training for pastoral ministry. You can contact him here.
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