Taking VEP on the Road

by board member and tutor, Fred Crotchfelt

The best way to connect with our community is to get out into it!  I enjoy being a tutor and a board member for the Volunteer English Program, but another rewarding aspect of my involvement is coordinating our Speaker’s Bureau. Taking our message directly to local businesses, clubs, churches, service organizations and professional groups becomes a perfect opportunity to build relationships.fred at lions

Preferring to “do business” with people we know is part of human nature.  Meeting a goodwill ambassador from VEP, especially a student, and hearing him or her “tell their story”, allows people to “put a face” with VEP. For instance, Jessica Ji, Kate Varley’s student from China, spoke to the International Women’s Club.  Group members, many of whom could personally identify with her story of why she came to America, were so impressed that they invited her to come to a future meeting and even suggested joining their club!  (See the post Jessica wrote on Feb. 6)

Gustavo 1

Gustavo tells his tutor, Fred, about his work.

As another example, Gustavo Castro, my student from Colombia, has spoken to Lions and Rotary Clubs.  In all instances the audience cannot help but admire someone whose dream brought him to America by himself a year before his wife could come and was so lonely at first that he wanted to go back home – but didn’t.

This is VEP!

At each presentation we are represented by a tutor and student . . . and normally a VEP Board member.  The total presentation takes 15 – 25 minutes and also includes some time for the audience to ask questions.

When I speak, as a tutor or Board member, our audience is politely attentive.  When our students are speaking, everyone’s attention is riveted on them.  Their stories are powerful reminders of what our country is made of from the beginning, and people sometimes mention that fact.  I feel like a proud father when I hear the students and see how people respond to them.

On a personal level, these opportunities have also opened a whole new “world” of connections to me.  I have met business people, members and leaders of other not-for-profit organizations, golfers (with whom I have a special affinity) and leaders in our community.  Many of these folks, I continue to see in our community and even to meet or keep in touch with.

There are tangible results that we seek from our presentations:

  • PRIMARY – Recruit volunteer tutors
  • Obtain volunteers for events and projects
  • Inform potential employers about this resource for their employees
  • Let potential students know we are here for them
  • Appeal to individuals for prospective board membership or committee participation
  • Cultivate future sponsorships and other support

YOU CAN HELP VEP!  If you know of an organization, or belong to one, which might be interested in learning about VEP, let me or the VEP office know, and we will follow up.

Fred Crotchfelt,  fredciii@chesco.com,  484-354-0283

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“Thank You, Thank You, Sam I Am”

submitted by tutor Marc Teti

I joined the VEP program and started tutoring Marcos from Colombia in the fall of 2012. Marcos had been working in the US for about 2 years in a professional IT role. This led me to believe that Marcos had advanced intermediate English language skills. As I found out, Marcos has a good vocabulary, Marcos Quito and Marc Tetibut he struggles with pronunciation, and it detracts from his ability to communicate. So after a few sessions getting to know each other we launched into reading the Easy English News. This led to many fruitful conversations about American history, government, and society. However I found myself surprised at how much difficulty Marcos had reading the newspaper and frustrated at how little impact I had on his ability to pronounce English words. It took me a few months to realize that we needed to take a step back and try something different.

The company I work for has a factory in Mexico, so I’ve had business meetings with many Mexican citizens who speak English as a 2nd language. I began to realize that Marcos’ speaking and listening skills were weaker than some of my Mexican colleagues. So I asked myself how can I develop a baseline for Marcos’ speaking skills and from that establish a foundation to build upon. Three things were necessary: 1) to identify common English mistakes made by Spanish speakers; 2) to isolate Marcos’ specific challenges; and 3) to acquire the tools to help Marcos correct these errors.

Addressing the first challenge, the common mistakes Spanish speakers make when trying to speak English, was easy. The VEP office team gave me some good information on this, and I immediately recognized many of the problems that my Mexican colleagues have. And I could see that Marcos had some of these same challenges as well as other pronunciation issues. I struggled to isolate the more subtle issues.

So secondly I wondered how I could I isolate Marcos’ specific challenges? Then I recalled the suggestion at the VEP training classes that we have our students read children’s books. So Dr. Seuss came to the rescue. Green Eggs and Ham, due to the repetition and rhyming scheme, made it clear which sounds Marcos struggled with most. Vowels, diphthongs, consonants and consonant blends are always pronounced the same way in Spanish. However English has many ways of pronouncing single vowels let alone the silent letters in many words. So phrases such as “would you, could you with a goat, would you, could you in a boat” were epiphanies. Marcos was trying to pronounce the silent L in would and could and the silent A in boat and goat. This only became clear with the simplicity and repetitive rhyming of Dr. Seuss.

Third, impressing upon Marcos the unique and subtle nuances of English pronunciation was proving more difficult than I expected. How could the TH sound be so difficult? Then I realized that TH has the forced air TH as in “think” and the voiced TH as in “the.” The answer to my dilemma was on youtube. Youtube has many pronounciation videos but I found Dave Sconda the best. His technique of having the camera zoomed in on his face and his exaggerated style helped to deconstruct the sound. I also found his mispronunciation examples humorous. As an example follow this link to see how Dave teaches the TH sound. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag4qoNzEH4w

With Marcos, I’ve learned that pronunciation makes or breaks your ability to effectively communicate. Vocabulary will come, but the pronunciation foundation needs to be laid so that you appear credible to your English listener. I think Marcos is now on that path.