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Summer 2014

Teaching English in Your Own Backyard

“Sound it out. Sound it out.”
“Take your time. Don’t skip over words.
”These are instructions that adult native-English speakers rarely worry about while reading. They usually don’t focus on sounding out words or saying each individual letter. They just read. They read quickly and comprehend what they are reading without even realizing that they are doing it. But for thousands of immigrants and refugees, reading and speaking English is one of the greatest challenges that life in the United States brings.

While opportunities for teaching English outside the United States are becoming more and more common, opportunities for teaching English within the country are not as well advertised. Many nonprofit organizations are dedicating their efforts to helping immigrants and refugees in the United States learn English.

Empowering Parents

Teaching English at the ESLC is a rewarding and challenging experience.

The English Skills Learning Center (ESLC) based in Salt Lake City, Utah, works with nonnative speakers who cannot attend traditional ESL classes. Many of the students cannot afford other programs, lack transportation, or cannot accommodate their schedules. The ESLC is able to provide free instruction to more than 500 students.

The ESLC has several programs that empower nonnative English speakers. It offers a Workplace ESL program, a Citizenship program, one-on-one tutoring, and small-group classes. But what makes the ESLC unique is its focus on the Empowering Parents program.

The ESLC’s program provides parents with English instruction on-site at their children’s school. Instruction occurs in the morning after the parents have dropped off their children or in the afternoon before they pick up their children from school. Not only do the classes help parents gain English skills, but they also empower parents to be more active participants in their children’s education and to connect more fully with their communities.

Classes include topics such as talking to your child’s teacher, reading a report card, and understanding school expectations. And once a month, each class has a lesson centered on a children’s book. With this book, the parents practice reading comprehension, fluency, and strategies for reading with their children. This part of the Empowering Parents program encourages participants to read regularly with their children.

The parents involved in this program typically want to learn English so they can help their children with homework. These parents generally work hard because they are motivated to help their children be successful in the United States.


The ESLC’s website says, “Our volunteers are the heart of our agency.” They are the ESLC’s most valuable asset. Volunteers at the ESLC give approximately five hours of service per week. They do not need a TESOL, TESL, or TEFL certificate, nor do they need teaching experience. But volunteers must be willing to go through the ESLC’s teacher training program. Training consists of four sessions of three hours each.

Not only is the position unpaid, but volunteers also contribute a one-time fee in order to attend the training sessions and receive a background check.

The ESLC’s greatest need is for additional teaching volunteers. But if teaching is too much of a time commitment, volunteers can post flyers, participate in drives, or donate money to help the ESLC keep its status as a nonprofit organization.

Seeing Results

Teaching English at the ESLC in Salt Lake City is a rewarding experience.

Teaching English in the United States is much more than correcting grammar and punctuation. Approximately 30% of the ESLC’s students had no schooling in their own country before coming to the United States. The ESLC and other programs empower students by helping them learn and, more importantly, by helping them understand that they can learn anything, not just English.

Not only does the center provide education, but it also unites the community. The ESLC’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Beth Garstka, says, “We serve people who are working hard, and we certainly want to connect more with their community. Our students want to become integrated. The ESLC helps adult English-language learners to be empowered and to make those goals achievable.” Refugees and immigrants become linked with volunteers, and their similar goals serve to connect the community. Additionally, volunteers are able to learn from their students. They share in each other’s culture, and as a result, learn to be more tolerant of one another.

If you are considering the possibility of teaching English outside the United States, consider the option of giving back in your own community.

Other Opportunities for Teaching English in the United States:

—Kaylee Ficklin

Photo credit (from top):English Skills Learning CenterEnglish Skills Learning CenterRick Egan