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‘Talk Time’ Gives ESL Students Conversation Practice

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 11 January 2017

 

Literacy Source offers ESL students opportunities to improve their language skills, including 'Talk Time'.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Jan '11

Literacy Source offers ESL students opportunities to improve their language skills, including ‘Talk Time’. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Jan ’11

On Monday afternoons (4p – 6p), January 9th – March 27th, Literacy Source will initiate conversations at the Fremont Branch Library.  Each week, ‘Talk Time’ topics will change, but the reason – to improve the conversation skills of English-learners – won’t.

Caroline Sayer has posted Literacy Source flyers about ‘Talk Time’ around Fremont, and she’s gotten a good response from volunteers (although more are always welcome,) but what she really hopes to encourage are the students.

Anyone who wants more practice, and more exposure, to conversational English, from ESL beginner to advanced, can join this free afternoon – for an hour of topic-driven talk and an hour of one-on-one tutoring.

Sayer hopes ‘Talk Time’ can provide education, but also a safe community for learners, either new to Seattle or long-term residents, who want to practice their English.  The free classes can be where, “people can make connections,” she observed.

800pxLiteracySource_Fremont Student Talk Time FlyerEDITED

Students and volunteer tutors wanted! Contact Literacy Source, at 206/782-2050, for more information.

‘Talk Time’ provides “a topic-driven, conversation group” Sayer explained.  She picks topics that discuss matters of culture, and allow students to share about their diverse backgrounds but also, as she explained, “drawing the lens back further,” to see how similar many our cultures and ways really are.

‘Talk Time’ tends to attract people who have chosen to relocate to our area, and Sayer has found most students tend to be open-minded, ready to talk and share, with less judgement.  They want to learn about the culture they’ve adopted, and to share their past experiences, good and bad, when invited to do so in a safe community.

“There will be a certain part of folks that want to learn about the organization of a language,” Sayer said.  Some students prefer to learn the grammar – nouns, punctuation, tenses, etc.  Yet, most students learn best by just doing, and talking.  “Written language is different from the spoken,” Sayer acknowledged, and ‘Talk Time’ focuses on talking, and getting the words out.

‘Talk Time’ is intended to help students, to make them “feel you can express yourself, in making friends, negotiating systems,” Sayer explained.  “It’s one thing to practice, and another to go out with friends,” she observed.  With ‘Talk Time,’ ways of expressing ourselves, the colloquialisms, idioms and abbreviations we use, can be discussed and Sayer has found that most students, “pick it up, and it’s a memory.”

Caroline Sayer (in blue) with another of her successful conversational groups, at Fred Hutch.  Photo provided by C. Sayer

Caroline Sayer (in blue) with another of her successful conversational groups, at Fred Hutch. Photo provided by C. Sayer

To further aid these students, “we encourage students to ask a lot of questions,” Sayer said, “There is no dumb question.  We create something that is open, so that people don’t feel this is a performance.”  Additionally, after the one-hour conversation, volunteer tutors meet with students and answer questions, address concerns and give direct attention, often one-on-one.

Meeting Students Where They Are

‘Talk Time’ is one of the many ways Literacy Source assists people to become more proficient in English.  Located in Fremont until recently, Literacy Source now operates some classes from larger classroom and offices facility in Lake City.  However, the non-profit has always found great success with offering off-site classes, to reach students around the region.

According to Janet Arbogast, Literacy Source Work Force Coordinator and Instructional Advisor, “we have a number of off-site services.”  Literacy Source works with employers, offering computer-integrated classes in English, at places of business, for professionals who seek to become more proficient.  They also operate at schools (right now they have four,) teaching English As A Second Language to parents who want to support their children’s education.  They partner with ‘Ready To Work’ programs, in Rainier Beach, Tukwila, Sea-Tac and at the Central Library, to provide students with enough knowledge in English literacy to be able to get and keep a job.  They also operate two conversation groups, one at the Lake City Community Center and the other, ‘Talk Time’, at the Fremont Branch Library, through a grant from the Tableau Foundation Community Grants program.

Through its exceptional volunteers, Literacy Source offers opportunities for free, one-on-one tutoring.  Photo by Wenmei Hill, 2013

Through its exceptional volunteers, Literacy Source offers opportunities for free, one-on-one tutoring. Photo by Wenmei Hill, 2013

From Every Walk Of Life

Sayer, who lives in Fremont, has served as a volunteer with Literacy Source since 2005, and has recently joined the staff.  She likes working with the organization that has empowered her to go out and organize ‘Talk Time’.  “I feel like I’m part of the team,” she said, “They offer the anchor person who can answer my questions,” while encouraging Sayer to work off-site, with the tools she needs to be successful.

‘Talk Time’ is similar to other programs Sayer has facilitated, through Literacy Source and other organizations.  The free gathering meets students where they are in their learning.  She expects to find students from every walk of life at ‘Talk Time’:  post-doctorates in the States for an extended stay, restaurant workers seeking to expand their vocabulary, parents looking to support their English speaking children, older people eager to overcome limited education backgrounds, young people filling in the blanks in their English exposure, etc.

‘Its Own Vocabulary’

Some students have a natural shyness, and for others, shyness is cultural.  Sayer has taught a classroom of women who worked in housekeeping at one of the hotels, and the women all took copious notes in class but found it difficult to speak up.  “It depends on the student,” Sayer observed, about how much they want to participate in ‘Talk Time’.  For students uncomfortable speaking up in the larger group, Sayer and other volunteers can address concerns in the tutoring session so, as Sayer explained, “they feel their issues are being dealt with.”

Practice conversational English in a safe, directed discussion group with 'Talk Time'.  Photo provided by Literacy Source

Practice conversational English in a safe, directed discussion group with ‘Talk Time’. Photo provided by Literacy Source

“Work has its own language,” Sayer acknowledged, “its own vocabulary.”  For many ESL students, they had to find a job – or are here to do one – before they could address literacy.  ‘Talk Time’ will be able to help with topics and vocabularies specific to many situations and types of employment:  medical, educational, hospitality, political, transportation, etc.

‘Of Any Proficiency Level’

Perhaps the greatest benefit for students is that ‘Talk Time’ doesn’t require pre-registration.  Students are not required to attend every session.  “I’m anticipating a lot of coming and going,” Sayer acknowledged, “I’m anticipating a student that travels a lot, one motivated and curious.”  Students can attend as they need support, and when they find time away from work, home and life’s other responsibilities.

“At the moment we are looking for volunteers to help out with the conversation piece and provide one-on-one assistance,” Sayer explained, “we are also looking for students (of any proficiency level.)”  Most important of all, “students are not required to live in Fremont,” and everyone who finds it convenient to meet at the Fremont Branch Library is welcome to stop by on Mondays (not January 16th, MLK Day) from 4p – 6p and share ‘Talk Time.’

For more information, contact Literacy Source at 206/782-2050 or visit the Literacy Source.org website.

 

 


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©2017 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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