Each Of My Students Has A Unique Story – ESL

by: Anissa Smith | May 13, 2018

Every Tuesday evening between September and April, over one hundred adults—eighteen-year-olds, grandparents, and every age in between — gather on the second floor of E2 of First Baptist Orlando.

Coming upstairs, I’m met with hugs and kisses on the cheek. Rapid Portuguese, Spanish, Creole, and English mingle in the air as everyone chats with new and old friends alike. They carry textbooks and notebooks and wear smiles like it’s Christmas morning. Their common ground? A desire to learn English.

One of these students is Karen. She is a faithful member of my class whose questions I look forward to from week to week. Like many other students, she may ask about the difference between “coffee” and “coughing” or how inseparable verbs function in a sentence. Her curiosity and relentless drive to learn English are typical of all students in my class.

Karen is from Venezuela where she lived until nine months ago when she moved to the US. Her first language is Spanish, but you would never guess she has lived here less than a year. I carry on a full conversation with her as I would with a native English speaker. One of her motivations for moving here was to be close to her relatives who have been living here for many years. She smiles, “I love this country [and] your culture.”

But adjusting to life in the US has not been without struggle. Karen’s nine-year-old daughter did not understand why her family moved and completely changed the course of their life. While some of her family still lives in Venezuela, the security and promising future for her daughter in the US confirmed Karen’s decision to make the move.

One of Karen’s friends told her about ESL classes at First Baptist Orlando, so she decided to come to increase her fluency in English. While many students can understand quite a bit of English, speaking with confidence and ease still takes lots of practice!

Week after week, we move through our textbook, learning the grammatical foundation and putting flesh to difficult concepts by reading and acting out dialogues with other students and discussing topics as a class — from the concept of God’s presence with believers to favorite travel locales around the world. These are the ways we learn language: theory and plenty of conversation.

When asked how ESL classes have helped her, Karen responds “ESL classes help me a lot because I learn new sentences or new words each [and] every class.”

At First Baptist Orlando, the goal of ESL classes is two-fold. We genuinely desire that our students grow in their knowledge of English, as well as their understanding and love of Jesus.  Every week, we share a small devotional and have special weeks of Gospel emphasis.

The most special opportunity I find as a teacher, however, is praying for my students each week. The textbook may be our guidebook for class, but Jesus is our ultimate example as we seek to love and serve like Him.

I ask Karen the question I present my students every week at the end of class, but I expand it to the whole church; “And how can we pray for you?” Karen looks at me with wide eyes and her caring heart written all over her face: “I would like the church [to] always pray for peace all over the world, for the kids, for the families to keep them together and [e]specially for my country Venezuela.”

So First Baptist Orlando, would you join me in praying for peace? Peace not only in our church and our lives but around the world and in Venezuela. This seems to be the consensus prayer request from my students every week. Immigrants to the US, whether they’ve been here for nine months or ten years, face uncertainty daily as they’re torn between their family in their native country and new home here. They seem more sensitive to the chaos of our world than we sometimes allow ourselves to be in the relative comfort of the average American lifestyle.

Each of my students has a unique story.

The struggles and stories behind their smiles are just as real for them as for those of us who speak English as our first language. So next time you come across someone who speaks little or broken English, pray for Karen and all the precious students we get to minister to! Although we are off for the summer, we will return in September and eagerly await all the students we get to meet, teach, encourage, and learn from ourselves.

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