North Bergen resident Elke Bachik is more than familiar with the art of language. Bachik grew up in Germany speaking both German and French. Drawing upon her experiences with learning two languages from her mother, she has since made a living for herself based on an immersion method of teaching language to people of varied cultures.
Bachik now volunteers her time teaching English as a Second Language to native Spanish-speaking students within the North Bergen Public Library three nights a week. Currently in her second year as instructor, Bachik has provided a valuable service to North Bergen, which according to a 2010 census has a Hispanic population of 41,569, or roughly 68 percent.
A rich history
After immigrating to America at age 21, Bachik took a job with Pan-American World Airways, who were in need of bilingual and trilingual stewardesses.
Upon marrying and raising three children, Bachik began translating foreign-language books to English from the comfort of her own home. Between translating books and raising children, however, she soon longed to travel again.
“It’s a very lonely thing [translating from home],” said Bachik. “You sit at home yourself pounding away for hours. I needed something that would get me out into the community.”
Bachik soon travelled to Japan, where there was a need for an English language instructor, particularly for businesses. According to Bachik, she was able to teach English to businessmen with only minimal knowledge of the Japanese language.
“I didn’t need Japanese to teach the English language because of the total immersion method,” said Bachik, who added that the length of her course was focused on teaching the 1,000 most commonly used words of the English language.
After teaching for four years in Japan, Bachik returned to America to become a private English teacher, where she remained for the majority of her life.
She has since spent the past seven years in North Bergen, continuing her career as a private English teacher. On her free time, Bachik volunteers as an ESL instructor to Spanish-speaking students within the library. Similar to her experience in Japan, she has minimal knowledge of the Spanish language.
Total immersion method
Bachik’s total immersion method is based on the way a mother teaches a child her native language. Over the length of a course, students are exposed to a variety of English phrases, each composed of the 1,000 most commonly used words of the language.
“It’s a method of small bites,” said Bachik. “My students have to write each sentence five times in English and Spanish.”
“Learning a language is repetition, repetition,” said Bachik. “Blood, sweat, and tears,” she added with a laugh.
The ESL course consists of beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Students are only permitted to advance to the next level after completing any prior levels. Each week, students are given 42 new words to learn, which is intended to be split evenly among each day of the week.
Helping the community achieve their goals
Bachik says she helped students advance their careers. One of her students was recently hired by a local television network after learning basic English.
Bachik also mentioned that one of her students, a Cuban immigrant, had been licensed to dispense medication in pharmacies. After arriving in the United States, his inability to speak English forced him to work the night shift stocking shelves.
“After he finished my advanced English class,” said Bachik, “he went from stocking shelves at night to working at the pharmacy.”
“The course is very simple,” said Maria Liria Echeverry, a former student who recently completed all three courses. “It’s very, very easy.”
Bachik also stated that once students can understand the language as it is spoken around them, they can gain the confidence to begin speaking it.
“She explains everything to the students,” said Monia Parapi, a student currently enrolled in the Intermediate class. “I finally understand everything going on around me.”
For those interested in enrolling in future classes, which will begin January, call the North Bergen Public Library at (201) 869-4715. The fee for the class is $20.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.