Learning the language: ESL students gain nuances over time


by By AARON CHIMBEL / WFAA Mobile Journalist


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:48 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 1:32 PM

Aaron Chimbel reports
March 20, 2008

In one room Barbara Johnson points to a pink sheet of paper with a drawing of a table, apple and other basic vocabulary and recites them for a student.

In another room, Virginia LaSala describes the differences between separable and inseparable verbs.

They're both volunteer teachers at Vickery Meadow Learning Center in Dallas. Both teaching English as a second language classes, but on opposite ends of the learning spectrum.

"They're now starting to really put things together," says Johnson. "Sometimes they get words out of order a little but they are easily understood by English speakers."

Johnson's students are nine weeks into the first English class, like Getenet Adenew, a 7-Eleven cashier who moved to Dallas two and half years ago from Ethiopia. He's still maneuvering around the basics.

"I learn here too much help me," he says.

This husband and father hopes the basics will make doing the little things easier at home and on the job.

"I say thank you, thank you very much please come, come again," Adenew describes what he can now say at work.

Aaron Chimbel / WFAA.com
LaSala in front of her class.

LaSala's students are in their fifth ESL class at the center. They have mastered the basics and are focusing on the nuisances.

"Moms can now communicate with teachers," LaSala says. "That's a huge blessing for a mom or for a dad to be able to be interactive with their child in his or her life and I see that all the time."

The transformation can take years; still Johnson sees progress each week.

"In class I correct their mistakes, but I also tell them they are doing a great job and they can be understood now," she says.

Her students are able to begin writing, like a thank you letter to an Eagle Scout who built shelves and bought dictionaries for the center. Johnson says this would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

"They did need some help in getting the vocabulary list for this letter and now they have to put it together with their own words, using our vocabulary," she said.

After all they're just in the first semester of their first English class.