In appreciation of the free English as a Second Language classes that the Friends of the Hoboken Public Library offer to Hoboken residents at the Hoboken Public Library, one of the ESL students wrote that he considered the classes “a beautiful gift.” From the students’ perspective, these classes are “a beautiful gift” because they enable people from all over the world to come together for the common purpose of increasing their English language skills and to share information about their home countries with their fellow classmates and with their tutors.
There are some gifts in life that keep on giving. The ESL classes fall into this category. From the tutors’ perspective, these classes are also “a gift” because they allow the tutors to learn about the rich cultures of other countries, to discover the beauty and lyricism of other languages, and to gain insight into how closely connected all people in this world really are.
In order to meet the growing demand for these classes and to continue to bring this “beautiful gift” to the Hoboken community, the Friends seek to increase our ranks of volunteer tutors and volunteer coordinators for the ESL classes.
The importance of these classes cannot be overemphasized. For many of the students, the conversational classes are a lifeline. One student, a trained French chef, faithfully came to class because she wanted to start her own business teaching French cooking classes within her Hoboken home. Another student, a lawyer from Mexico, hoped that enrolling in the classes would help her in her goal of passing the New Jersey bar exam. Another student expressed that she enrolled in order to improve her score on the TOEFL test – the most widely respected English language test in the world and a test in which high scores can lead to job advancement. Grandparents have explained that they enrolled because they wanted to be able to converse with their grandchildren in English. Whatever motivation brings the students to the classes – whether overseas job relocations to the New York metropolitan area, undergraduate or graduate enrollment at Stevens Institute of Technology or other universities or any of the other myriad reasons – all students are united in the desire to gain English fluency so that they can totally feel a part of American society.
Feeling a part of American society may be something that some Americans take for granted, not so for people from other countries. In a discussion about goals that students are trying to achieve with the classes, one student seemed to speak for many of the students when he expressed that people tend to judge others by the way in which they speak. When asked to expand on that, he said that it doesn’t seem to matter the level of education that someone may have attained in their home country because when that person comes to America and tries to apply for a job, or rent an apartment, or open a bank account, etc. the person is judged by how he speaks, and that can be an unfair judgment.
To counter these unfair judgments, the classes meet once a week for one-hour sessions during a ten-week semester in the spring and in the fall. While the classes primarily focus on everyday conversational skills, there is also a focus on incorporating specific grammar exercises and writing into each session so that all elements of communication, listening, speaking, reading, and writing mesh.
A typical class is structured so that the first ten minutes, led by the coordinator, are devoted to whole group identification of the weekly topic – either through a body language charades-type game or through the identification of pictures. Once the topic is identified, the students are divided into small groups to work with their tutors to discuss open-ended topic questions in depth and to work on the highlighted grammar points and to develop their writing skills.
For the last ten minutes of the class, the roles are reversed, and the students become the tutors by teaching the evening’s topic word in the language of their home countries to the tutors, who then become the students. This role reversal empowers the students, and, at the same time, it allows the tutors to experience how it feels to learn words that are foreign to them. This role reversal usually elicits peals of laughter as the tutors stumble and mumble and entirely mispronounce the words they are being taught in German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Mexican, Russian, Albanian, Italian, Iranian, Chinese, etc.
In closing, if interested in being a part of these classes – either as a volunteer tutor or volunteer coordinator, the Friends invite you to e-mail us at email@example.com. Increased community involvement with these classes will enable the Friends to meet the diverse needs of our students and will guarantee that this “beautiful gift” will continue.
Library Hours Monday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Wednesday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Thursday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., *Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., *Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
*(Please note that Saturday and Sunday summer hours vary, depending on date, so please consult http://hoboken.bccls.org/html/hours.htm for current info.)
Children’s Room and Young Adult Department Hours
Monday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday: 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Wednesday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursday 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., *Saturday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., *Sunday: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
*(As noted above, Saturday and Sunday summer hours vary, so please consult the Hoboken Public Library’s website referenced above).
This column is brought to you by The Friends of the Hoboken Public Library, a non-profit group of volunteers dedicated to assisting the Library. For more information about the Friends and the activities we sponsor and to join the group, visit our website at www.hobokenfol.org. Membership brochures are also available at the Library.