ESL Fact Sheet
The ESL Center matches volunteer tutors to adult newcomers for one-to-one instruction in English language and literacy. We serve immigrants who have come to live and work in the area and to make the Pioneer Valley their home, as well as those who have come to stay for only a year or two. The Center's award-winning tutoring program helps newcomers to become full participants in our community by achieving linguistic self-reliance and familiarity with American culture and institutions. The Center Coordinator, Lynne Weintraub, is a nationally recognized ESL/citizenship author, teacher, trainer, and curriculum developer.
What Makes this Program Different
- The setting is ideal
The library is the cultural and educational center of the community
- Overhead costs are low
About 375 hours of volunteer instructional time are donated per week
- Scheduling is flexible
Students can schedule around their work shifts or childcare arrangements
- Instruction can be tailored to individual needs
What Students Learn at the ESL Center
The program helps immigrants to meet their individual goals, which differ greatly from student to student. Some of the goals students are currently working toward include:
- Getting a first job in the U.S.
- Getting a driver's license
- Becoming a U.S. citizen
- Learning to use a computer
- Communicating effectively with their children's teachers and health care providers
- Getting a "safe serve", certified nursing assistant, or similar workplace credential for a promotion
- Communicating better in the workplace (with customers, supervisors, and co-workers)
- Enrolling in community college next year
- Getting a high enough TOEFL score to enter the university
- Gaining enough confidence to feel comfortable communicating with English speakers
- A majority of our students are East Asian (from Korea, Cambodia, Tibet, China, Vietnam, and Japan). About 15% are Latin American, and a few come from countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and Cape Verde.
- Many students were professionals in their native countries, but some were farmers, market vendors, or unemployed, and have very little formal education.
- They came to the United States as refugees, through asylum, amnesty, diversity lotteries, as dependents of H1-B recipients (sponsored by an employer), and as family visa recipients (sponsored by a U.S. citizen).
- 85% of the immigrant students are working, which means tutoring is scheduled around that. Of non-working students, most are full time caregivers for their children and a small number are retired.
- We also provide one-to-one conversation practice for international students/researchers and their spouses.
At any point in the year there are between 100 and 150 tutors matched with students at the ESL Center. (Some volunteers work with multiple students in succession.) Our volunteers represent a wide range of Amherst residents. About 20% are college students, and another 30% are retired professionals. The rest are ordinary people who volunteer outside of their regular work hours.
Instructional tutors receive a ten-hour training workshop, a handbook and on-going support from the ESL Center coordinator. Some choose to work with more than one student, and many have been volunteering for years. All are asked to make a 9-month commitment to the program.
Conversation Partners are offered tutoring space, a guide (PDF), and ongoing support, but are not required to attend a training workshop.
Citizenship (learn more)
The ESL Center offers information / application packets and study materials to immigrants who are ready to apply for citizenship. Individuals are offered tutors, application assistance, and practice interviews. We estimate that 15 immigrants each year would not be able to naturalize without the extra help we offer. Our success rate with citizenship students is 100%.
Conversation Circles (learn more)
A team of ESL volunteers offer informal group conversation practice several times a week throughout the year.
What would happen if the service was no longer available?
Immigrant students would face a bewildering set of barriers to instruction, such as:
- Lack of classroom slots in state-funded adult education programs
- Lack of transportation (when out-of-town classes are the only option)
- Inability to change work schedules or childcare arrangements in order to attend scheduled classes
- Required minimum competency tests, for access to community college E.S.L. courses
- No available instruction for specific needs/goals
- Long waiting lists for services
- International students/researchers might return to their countries without ever having had an American friend or even having an extended conversation with a native English speaker
The ESL Center is located on the lower level of the Jones Library, the Town Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. Tutors and students use 3 conference rooms, each of which is equipped with an iPad or computer with internet access. A specialized collection of 1,800+ books, DVDs, and other instructional materials supports the learning process. These public facilities are open 7 days a week from September through May and 6 days a week through the summer months.