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English as a Second Language

English as a Second Language

The world is at our doorstep. Millions of people have been torn from their land due to war and political instability and have found themselves living and working in American cities.

“I think we have a responsibility to share the gospel with all nonbelievers, including the refugees and immigrants that are here in the U.S.,” said 22-year-old Brianna Deutsch, youth program director and volunteer coordinator at the Somali Education Center in Minneapolis, Minn. “One way to show Jesus’ love for others is to love them and help them learn English.”

The only way for many of these refugees to be successful in their jobs and become active citizens in the U.S. is for them to learn English. “The only way we can be successful as communities with different races and cultures is to have a way to communicate,” said Deutsch, who graduated from Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. in Dec. 2004.

There are a variety of ways a person can get involved teaching ESL here in the U.S.; in many cases, no experience is necessary. If you don’t have an English as a Second Language (ESL) certificate or degree, you can volunteer through community-based organizations, which is what Deutsch does.

Depending on the age of an English language learner, individuals’ needs differ. Younger kids tend to pick up the language much quicker but frequently need tutoring in other subjects or just need someone to read to them, said Deutsch. The older students struggle even more.

“A 15-year-old girl may have just arrived in the U.S., but she’ll be put in ninth grade because of her age. She may not have gone to school a day of her life,” said Deutsch. “I’ll have high school students who can barely speak a word of English bring me their chemistry book to ask for help.”

Volunteers to teach adult ESL classes are also needed because many adult refugees need to learn English in order to find a good job. Still, many immigrant adults fail to see the need. “It can be easy for the parents to stay where it’s comfortable, whereas their kids are in school and they have to learn English,” said Deutsch. “Plus, oftentimes, immigrants live in the same buildings and communities, so it’s easy for them to stick together. Especially for Somali families in the Twin Cities, it’s easy for adults to not learn English. They have Somali television, Somali radio, Somali restaurants and Somali shopping malls … But, it makes it harder in the end if they don’t learn.”

Adults especially encounter problems when their children learn to speak English and they do not, added Deutsch, who said that children can take advantage of their parent’s inability to communicate with the mainstream culture in order to gain the upper hand. Without learning English, a parent has no way of communicating with the schools or law enforcement.

Parents who don’t learn English also tend to find themselves up against a cultural divide. As first generation immigrants, they are likely to be more conservative in their own religious practices and afraid of westernization. “If they don’t understand the language, there’s going to be a lot in the culture that they can’t understand,” said Deutsch. “Sometimes, they overcompensate and impose stricter rules on their children instead of teaching them how to find the good in both cultures. Teenagers are told to be exactly opposite from their peers and not taught how to deal with that.”

Volunteering to help immigrants learn English is really about a whole lot more than the language. It’s about getting involved in their lives. “It’s always important to also be a learner in the experience and try to learn from the student about their language and their culture,” said Deutsch. “It will really help you to understand them, and the student is often excited about teaching someone else about their culture.”

Volunteers may eventually decide to earn a certificate or diploma online to get further training to work with second-language learners, said Deutsch, who just completed her TESOL diploma online.

Once you do that, there are opportunities for teaching in other countries. “I think that is a completely different scenario, though,” said Deutsch, “because language learners in other countries don’t have to learn English to survive.”

However, teaching English can be a doorway to sharing the gospel. In countries like China, you can’t go as a missionary, but you can teach English.


– In 2000, 28.4 million foreign-born people resided in the United States, representing 10.4 percent of the total U.S. population.

– Nearly 32 million people in the United States speak a language other than English.

– ESL programs are the fastest growing component of the state-administered adult education programs.

– From the National Institute for Literacy


National Institute for Literacy

World Relief: U.S. Ministries

America’s Literacy Directory

English Language Institute China

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