Tag Archives: English Speakers of Other Languages

Discrimination or Fair Play?

The majority of my ESOL Conversations students don’t work. They complain about how hard it is to find a job, or even volunteer work. But for good reason. There have even been some employers who say they don’t like the way the students speak English. Say what?

Yup, it’s true. This really happened.

So, when one of my students told me that she was hired as a nurse assistant at a local hospital, I was thrilled.

She credited the class for helping her to be able to express herself and feel comfortable holding conversations with people whose native language is English (her native language is Chinese).

She attended a local community college and took courses so she could become a certified nurse assistant. Once she passed, she started job hunting. She was so excited and couldn’t wait to share her good news with the rest of the class.

After one week on the job, Jin Hong was beat. Even though she’d only been in the nursing field for a week, the staff gave her the most patients. She was responsible for taking care of nine people, while other staffers had six or seven. I suggested to Jin Hong to communicate her frustrations with the team leader. That didn’t go so well. The team leader told her to “suck it up” because the other workers had to experience the same workload when they first started.

But it wasn’t just the workload that was the problem. Jin Hong just wanted advice on how to handle so many patients. Since she was new, she just looked to her co-workers for support and a little guidance.

Despite her many attempts to communicate her frustrations, she got nowhere. They would say, “I don’t have time to help you” or “I can’t understand what you’re saying.” After only two weeks at the hospital, Jin Hong quit.

When she explained her dilemma to the class, we all felt her pain. Jin Hong only wanted to put her skills and education to use, doing something she loved: helping other people.

But thanks to insensitivity, Jin Hong not only lost a job, but the hospital lost a good employee.


Gender Roles in America and Abroad

Project Learn’s ESOL Conversations class is not your ordinary English For Speakers of Other Languages course. In this class, students already understand the English language, but need to work on their conversational skills.

It’s hard to interview for a job or make friends when you can’t engage in a conversation, but this class addresses these issues. We try to help the students become familiar with English idioms and get comfortable living in America by learning how to speak American English.

Below is a video of a few students discussing the roles of men and women in their home countries. From China to Puerto Rico, they discuss the roles and responsibilities of men and women in the home and abroad, the perceptions of an angry woman, and how men dress determine how they are perceived by others.

It was interesting to see that even though the students were instructed to answer questions based on their native countries, their answers were more similar to thoughts and ideas in America than different.

This may be my personal opinion, but I have noticed that in America:

  • Men who were pink are considered to have female qualities or thought of as “gay.”
  • Women are expected to keep care of the children and house, while men make money to take care of his family. In some cases, women take care of responsibilities at home in addition to working.
  • Women who appear angry in public are perceived more negatively than men. However, it is OK for women to cry in public. When men cry publicly, they are labeled as “soft” or too sensitive.
  • In my educational career, the majority of teachers in my elementary and middle schools were female. In college, I had more male teachers. This is similar to what Xi Gi observed in China.
  • Although it appears as if women talk much more than men, a recent study showed that men talk as much as women… depending on the topic. The study showed that both sexes speak about 16,000 words a day.

Although this may seem like a simple discussion, if English is not your native language, it’s pretty tough.  It’s easier for the students to talk about issues and topics that are familiar to them. By doing this, students are more likely to feel at ease when speaking in public and having conversations with fluent English speakers.

Crazy Students Who Don’t Care About the Weather


If you live in northeast Ohio, you know we’ve been getting schlacked with snow in subartic weather lately.  Now, you would think that this type of weather would strongly encouarage to students to stay home, and it does for some of them.  Not that our classes aren’t being attended, far from.  However, whenever the weather is bad the office gets lambasted by phone calls from students calling off class.  This isn’t a complaint.  I don’t want ice-storm, road-panckake students anymore than the next guy.  What gets me is the crazy students who come no matter what.

Now, I’m not talking about a little bit of flurries that saunter down and melt before they hit the pavement.  I mean the big-daddy, holy-moses, God-has-just-let-us-know-that-he’s-tired-of-our-crap-and-refuses-to-take-it-anymore snow storm.  The stuff that Eskimos don’t go out in.  The question I always ask myself is do you really want to learn English that badly?  Now, English is important, but I’m not sure if I’d wager my life to learn it…or at the minimum my car.

It wouldn’t be so bad if any other students showed up.  No…they all know to stay home, and I agree with them.  I always tell my students to stay home if the roads look dangerous.  What’s even crazier is that one of my students walks.  Walks?  In this temperature?  If it was me, English could wait.

I guess the point of this diatribe is just to note how devoted and appreciative many of our students are to the services we provide.  They must like what they’re learning.  They keep coming back, rain or shine, day after day.  Yes, many of our students are exactly like the postal service.  And while I might me confounded and unable to understand why some one would walk 2 miles in a snow storm when they can’t see the hand in front of their face, I’m just glad they enjoy class enough to be willing to brave the weather.


The First Snow

Over the past several months, I’ve been doing my best to inform my newly arrived Dominican Republic student about the winter weather in Ohio.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I have this fascination with students who haven’t seen snow.  It’s not that I’m a huge fan, but since it’s been present my entire life, I find it extremely intriguing when students move to Ohio but have never seen it.  While it’s not Buffalo, I usually can’t wait to see their reaction.

Because my student and I have been talking about the upcoming snow experience and after I woke up yesterday and got to work, the first thing I started thinking about was the next time I got to hear about the first snow story.  Usually, I’m interested, but this has been building up for months.  Since she started, she’s told me that she might not come to class in January because of the cold, that she might have to get a divorce and move back to her country, and that if class ever got cancelled I had to call her and tel her, so she didn’t unnecessarily ride the bus.

Unsurprisingly, when I saw her in class this morning, I expected the worst.  Actually, I half didn’t expect her to be there.  When she waddled into the room, in more clothes than I expect that she ever wore in her life, she sat down and had this huge smile on my face.  I expected frustration or disappointment for the horrendously frigid bus-sicle ride I made her take today because of class, but a smile.

In my English classes, I always start my lessons by asking my students, “What’s new?”  (It’s amazing how, even though they might not know how to learn a word of English, in about a week they all know how to respond, “Nothing.”) Not willingly to wait, I asked my student, and immediately, she started laughing.

She explained that she work up at 8:30 because the sunlight reflecting off the snow, threw open the curtains, and that all the curtains in her house stayed open for the rest of the day.  She called another student from class to bring her kids so she could play with them in the snow.  She took picture upon picture to send to her family.  And for some reason–I haven’t quite figured this one out yet except that a cousin in the Dominican Republic told her to–she covered her face in the snow and washed her face with it.  Now, that’s just weird, but I couldn’t stop laughing.  She said that she was running around and playing in the snow that her neighbors probably thought that she had lost it.

While it’s comical, I love having the opportunity to share these experiences with my students.  While this story has now gone to the top of my list, it is only slightly eclipsed by one of my pasts students description about when she first had to use a Western toilet…but that’s probably a different story for a different day.


No English, No Work

This week all of my classes started back up.  As it always when we have a break, my students attendance would not be called great.  I’m not sure what the problem is, but they never ever seem to get there on the first day or the second even.  Heck, sometimes I’m lucky if I see them within the first three weeks.  Either way, the week went off without a hitch, but I did get a sad revelation on the first day of my AM ESOL class.

Before we went on break (so, three weeks ago) my student had got hired at a local convenient store.  They interviewed her (key point is that they interviewed her) and told her that they’d hire her once she got her social security number from the government.  Well, when she did they did hire her but for only five days.

On her fifth day, my student was stocking the shelf and a customer came up to her and asked where the produce section was.  The problem is that she didn’t understand her, and because of this, after they had interviewed her and spoken to her on numerous occasions, they fired her.  First of all, I want to know what kind of person goes and complains to a manager that one of his or her employees couldn’t speak English.  With all the ridiculous (and ,in my opinion, bigoted) hype of illegal immigration in this country, I can’t believe someone actually went and complained about someone who was trying to work (and learn English) legally in this country.  She went through the right steps; she’s just trying to make a living.  She worked in a human resource department in her country.  And let’s be honest, a shelving position isn’t that demanding. 

The second point:  you’ve spoken to her.  If you felt her English was up to snuff, why hire her in the first place?  Why make someone go through that.  And, she speaks rather well.  I mean she won’t be take turns on the presidential debate circuit, but with a little patience and understanding, she can definitely be understood.  The only thing that I can think of was the person must have been completely insensitive and had absolutely no experience working with or talking to people from a different country. 

To me, (completely my own opinion) when things like this happen I tend to wonder why people would want to immigrate here from another country.  Sadly, she’s more understanding than I am.  Maybe she’s just used to it and that kind of treatment.  If that’s the case, then, it’s a sad, sad day for this country.


GED and ESOL: Lots of Work and Extra Trouble

Recently, I asked one of my students to describe the difficulties of attending both a GED and an ESOL class.  While I imagine that we can all understand that GED class is difficult enough (how many of us really want to see what our score would be on the GED Math test?) but add that it is being taught in a second language and that adds a completely different level of difficulty.  I’ve inserted her response below.  Hong is a Chinese student who attends both my GEN Y GED class and ESOL classes.

HongI have been taking GED class and ESOL class almost two months.  These are two different courses.  The GED course helps students who do not finish high school to complete their high school education.  The ESOL course helps people who speak other languages to learn English. 

In GED class, almost all the students are Americans;  English is their first language.  Sometimes I don’t understand what they are talking about.  Each class my teacher teaches me some new words.  He explains the new words’ meaning and lets us make some sentences.  I need to write an essay each week.  I think that’s very helpful for me. 

The ESOL course places special emphasis on words and expressions for everyday use and speaking.  This course gives me more of a chance to speak with other people in English.  In ESOL class, we read newspapers aloud and we often learn something new.  I enjoy my GED class and ESOL class.

**FYI:  Hong and I sat together and corrected some mistakes before this entry was published.

New Year’s Resolutions

Right before I got back from my 3-week vacation (I didn’t really do anything, but after a rough semester of grad classes I needed to relax), I asked Marquita and Carol Joy to conduct some New Year activities in both my ESOL classes.  Yeah, I know asking your students to write New Year’s resolutions isn’t a largely creative activity, but I don’t think setting goals for the upcoming year or semester is too much to ask.  Now, I know that it’s actually February and an entire month since we’ve made and forgotten the promises we secretly swore to uphold this upcoming year (maybe yours aren’t secret but I’ve decided to keep mine on the QT so that my friends and family don’t call me out on them all year long), but I thought you might like to hear what my students had to say.  Below is a list of a number of the goals my students made for the upcoming year.    It’s not all of them, but it will give you a good taste.  Here you go!

I want to be a United States citizen.

I want to study English and drive a car.

I want to study English in 2008.

I want to do everything that I wrote in my 2007 resolutions list.

I want to work a lot and make money.

I want to learn computer in 2008.

I want to go to visit Laos and my friends in 2008.

I want a fantastic year in 2008.

I want progress in my job.

I want to learn to use the computer and do exercises in 2008.

I want to watch the musical of The Lion King in NY.

I want to save money.

I want to buy a car.

I want to take care of my and my husband’s health.

I want to read more books.

I don’t want to waste our money on impulse buying.

I want to speak English well.

I want to go back to visit my mother in my country. 

I want to teach dance for Hmong National Day.

I want to be on time for class.

Hope you enjoyed them.  I corrected a several grammar mistakes to make it easier to read.  They might not be perfect, but my students are coming along.