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Learning and teaching language hand in hand

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By Anne Radford

The Courier-Herald

Juanita Best plays a dual role in the English as a Second Language group that formed in January.

"I am both a volunteer and a student," the Buckley resident said. "I like helping others to learn. It is exercise for my mind."

Best has been part of the group, which meets at the Enumclaw Public Library, since it started and said the communication within the group and getting to know people better keeps her involved.

"The volunteers put all their effort to teach in a lot of ways we can understand," Best said.

Lauren Warren and Lisa Fisher have led the group since January. They picked it up after the former leader, who taught a similar program, moved from Enumclaw last fall.

All the current participants are Spanish-speaking, but anyone who wants ESL instruction may attend, Fisher said.

Fisher teaches the Monday class that is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on conversations through games, role-playing, storytelling and charades, Best said.

"The goal is to get people used to each other in a safe, open environment," she said.

The group then breaks into small groups led by volunteers to work on reading, conversation skills, and learning sounds and letters. The small groups include one beginning group, two intermediate groups and one advanced group.

An average of 10 participants meet regularly, Fisher said.

"It is a well rounded group and a really rich learning environment," she said. "It is amazing the amount of confidence the participants have in their speaking abilities. There are little success stories we keep hearing."

When the group began, the participants knew about 100 English words, Fisher said. By April, the participants knew about 175 words.

"They're learning and getting better and better," Fisher said. "It is good to be able to help the community and have an impact on everyday life."

Warren leads the Wednesday class. She said the group began by building simple sentences with basic vocabulary, but the lessons have become more challenging the last two months. The group now focuses on idiomatic language structure, pronunciation and colloquial language.

"It takes about one month to do a lesson," she said. "They are pretty extensive with a lot to be learned."

The group starts by reviewing the prior week's vocabulary and idioms. The group then breaks into small groups with volunteers to work one on one, often playing games incorporating the idioms, Warren said.

"By gaining access to the language, they can gain access to what they want to do in this country," she said. "I have watched the students advance by leaps and bounds."

The group was advertised for adults, but children are welcome to join, Fisher said.

The majority of the volunteers are members of the Calvary Presbyterian Church, she said.

"The volunteers from the church amaze me," Warren said. "They are dedicated, devoted and want the students to excel in this culture and be better equipped by learning the English language."

David Arroyo, of Enumclaw, is another participant in the group.

"The volunteers are good people," he said. "This has given us a wonderful opportunity."

The Friends of the Library, a support group of library boosters, bought the group Spanish/English dictionaries and notebooks to hold class materials, said Bob Baer, library director and head of the city's Department of Community Services. The library also has books on tape for learning English, videos on ESL, and children's books in Spanish, he said.

"The program fits what our library does in general," Baer said. "A program like this makes it three-dimensional."

Fisher is a stay-at-home mom with experience volunteering in elementary schools. She got involved with the group after seeing an advertisement last November and told Baer that she would like to help.

A member of the Calvary Presbyterian Church who knew of Warren's background in ESL instruction approached Warren about participating in the group. Warren is a graduate of Evergreen State College with endorsements in early childhood development and ESL instruction. She is trained to teach various backgrounds the English language. Neither leader is fluent in Spanish.

In the Enumclaw School District, 86 students have been identified by state guidelines as requiring more services in English language instruction, said Jennifer Traufler, the district's director of student support services. Of those, 84 students have been identified as speaking Spanish and two students as speaking Russian, she said.

The English as a Second Language (ESL) group meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at the library, 1700 First St.

Anne Radford can be reached at aradford@courierherald.com.

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