Wegman’s Tour

by VEP student Jerry Ai, tutored by Fred Crotchfelt

Tutor-student field trips do not have to be long or expensive. There are many free opportunities right in the community, like a trip to Wegman’s grocery store.

A couple weeks ago my English tutor, Fred, suggested that we could spend some time at Wegman’s instead of our regular English class in a meeting room of his church.  Wegman’s at Downingtown,PA is one of the largest grocery stores in Chester county. The store provides not only daily food but also has a Pharmacy and a Market Cafe.  For me Wegman’s is the place where I get fresh fruits and organic milk.

On Monday, Fred and I started our Wegman’s tour from the cafeteria. Since it was about time for lunch we needed to find something for lunch. We explored the food bar and found a lot of options from oriental to Italian foods, such as dumplings, fried rice, pizza and fresh salad. They all looked delicious! Fred wanted to have a sandwich so he asked a Wegman’s lady behind counter where we could find a sandwich. She showed us where we could find a fresh made sandwich. We walked to the sandwich place and another Wegman’s lady made a tuna wrap for Fred. She asked Fred what he wants in the tuna wrap, such as lettuce, onion and etc. Both ladies were friendly when we spoke with them.

After our lunch time we started walking around in the store. I visit this store almost once every week for quick food shopping and never had a chance to explore which I always wanted to try.  We found couscous at the natural food section. I had couscous once at a restaurant and loved it every much. It was time to get a bag and cook my own couscous!  I like this section because I can not only find something healthy but also get to learn some new ideas.  We found mac and cheese when we passed by a shelf with a bunch of boxed food.  Fred told me mac and cheese tastes good and his grand children love it. I grabbed one box and want to cook it at home sometime.

It was about two hours we stayed at this store. Fred answered a lot of questions when I found something new and asked him what that is. We talked about cooking and food. We had a good time and I bought the bag of couscous and a box of mac and cheese! This kind of class helps me to better understand America and learn more and more about American life. And that is the value of my experience with the Volunteer English Program.


Wisdom from The 2014 Betsy Hawkes Award Winner

VEP-132Shannon Almquist is an inspiration.  She’s one of those women you could listen to all day, who has met so many fascinating people in her life, and who always gives back to her community and her world.  We are fortunate that she is a long-time VEP tutor who has taught five students in our program over the years, in addition to many more she has hosted in her home with her husband Roy, who was pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church.  She is also an Educational Consultant who has trained tutors here at VEP and all over the globe.

At our recent “Help VEP Bloom” spring fundraiser, Shannon was the recipient of the Betsy Hawkes Award, presented by Bob Hawkes, VEP Sponsor, friend, and husband of the late Betsy Hawkes.  Her moving speech follows.  Enjoy!

Many, if not most, non profit organizations and charities are the brainchild of one individual. In the case of Volunteer English, it was the vision of June Hamilton to enlist her fellow members of Calvary Lutheran Church in West Chester to aid recent immigrants in learning English, so they could be fully integrated into their chosen communities. Our early materials were Laubach books and curricular materials from the Chester County Library, ones created for missionaries to use in their work in distant places.

For an organization to survive, flourish, and grow it must transcend its initial stage. The Volunteer English Program now has almost 200 tutors and is led by professionals. These professionals test each student, determine with them goals and level of English. They train the tutors and match them with appropriate students…it’s come a long way from the “mom and pop” origins. They provide educationally appropriate materials, from newspapers to driver manuals to citizenship application guides. The Board consists of local business and professional leaders who understand how to support and guide the organization and aid in the funding necessary for VEP to survive and thrive.

As for my journey, I first had Shan Shan as a student. She had been a Russian professor in China, along with her husband. When the Cultural Revolution determined educated people to be “the enemy,” they and their 2 children were sent to the countryside to be “re-educated,” and their children (along with an entire generation) were denied education. Somewhere Shan Shan heard that in America you could be a life long learner, and she decided she would apply for immigration here and hope to be able to bring her husband and two grown (20 and 22) children to this country. The American dream…that you can be a life long learner. How lucky we are to be able to share and participate in that dream.

Since then I have had Marcella from Mexico, Andrea from Hungary, and Toranj and Nasrin from Iran. Nasrin is here this evening with her husband Reza, and she became an American citizen last year. Her boys are at local schools, and the family is thriving. Nasrin is employed by the Chester County Intermediate Unit as a substitute secondary math teacher. She has become a dear friend.

So that’s the story…that we change lives one by one. And in the process, we tutors are the ones who are blessed by the experience, by the inspiration of these courageous people, and by the new friendships.”

Below is a “Wordle” of Shannon’s speech.

Wordle: Betsy Hawkes Award Winner Speech


Gotta Give Her Credit

by VEP student Eunsung Kim, tutored by Nancy Satinsky

Eunsung & NancyVEP tutors do much more than teach students English!  They help adult immigrants adapt to American culture, achieve employment and education goals, and even earn citizenship.  Eunsung tells of her important achievement of establishing credit:

“I wanted to get a credit card because I needed to get credit in the United States. If I buy a house and my credit is good, the interest will be lower. In my country I used credit cards so I knew the benefit of a credit card. Sometimes the credit card company returns money for using a credit card. You can get miles or discounts by using the card. Without a major credit card (like Visa, Mastercard, or American Express) I cannot get a store credit card.

“First I opened an account at a bank (Wells Fargo). I saved money. I thought that the bank would trust me if my account got higher. I waited about 1 year. After 1 year, I visited the bank and asked them for a credit card. They required information about me and my husband. I gave them information but I was refused. They told me to call to find out the reason I was refused, but my English was not good and I didn’t understand. My VISA was expiring in 6 months, so I thought I will try again after I renew my VISA.

“This September I asked again for a credit card. They said again my credit score was too low. Then my tutor visited Wells Fargo. She met with a banker (David). She explained my situation. He needed some information – a copy of my husband’s social security number and my husband’s mother’s mane. David suggested we got a “secured credit card”. After one year, I can get an “unsecured card” if I pay on time. First, the bank gave just my husband a card. I wanted an extra card for me, but the banker told me it’s better to get a separate card to raise my credit score. We waited and waited and waited and visited the bank to see if it was processing. Finally, I received my credit card on the day of the VEP luncheon. I am excited.”

The Year of Maria

the year of maria

Maria’s letter is transcribed below for easier viewing.

Last year, Maria came to our office to ask for a tutor.  She was breathless and nervous, speaking with urgency as she explained that she had “waited long enough” to learn English.  She came from Mexico 16 years ago, she explained, but working full time to support herself and her child had demanded all of her time and energy.  It had always been her dream to improve her English and become a United States citizen, but her life was so busy.  Now she needed help.

After several months on our waiting list (due to our constant need for volunteers), Maria finally came back to our office to meet her tutor.  She couldn’t stop smiling!

This September, Maria’s tutor, Sandy, called to tell us that Maria had become a United States citizen, purchased a new home, and obtained a new job!  Maria wrote us the pictured letter, something she could not have done a year and a half ago.  It is transcribed below.

Congratulations to Maria!  May each year be full of growth and accomplishments.

“The Year of Maria”

“I had a dream to speak English better and become a U.S. citizen.  Three years ago I went to Volunteer English.  I took the test.  No one called.  In January, I called Volunteer English and said, “This is my year!”  I went back and took the test again.  Then Patty called me.  I’m so excited I have a tutor.

“My tutor and I met at a restaurant.  I will remember that day forever.  My tutor told me that “pero” is Spanish, in English I have to say “but.”  Oh boy!  My cheeks were red.  I said “I cannot say this bad word.”  A man at the next table said, “That is a normal word in English.”  We laughed a lot.  Now we meet at the library.  I spoke English with my tutor.  We read funny stories and laughed more.  I was not nervous to speak English any more.

“The librarian told me lawyers would come to the library.  They would help me. The lawyers were so nice to me.  I filled out the application.

“Wait… Wait… Wait… I practiced writing sentences for the citizenship test.  I studied the cards with the questions for the test.

“Finally in August I had my interview with immigration.  I have my dream.  I am U.S. Citizen.”


College Trip and a Dream Come True

Vivian, student of VEP tutor Pat Mapps, shares her classic American experience of dropping her child off at college!  Congratulations to Esther and her family.Vivian college trip

Aug. 23, 2013, was the day that changed my family again.

Since we moved to the U.S.A, this four-people family banded together. Our home country is Taiwan, our two kids were born there. 10 years ago, my husband’s job changed, we moved here. Because we didn’t have other family in the U.S.A, so all vacations, special moments, birthdays, graduations and some tough times, we had only our four to share it. After Esther left, life changed.

Williamsburg, Virginia, this place is so colonial. 7 years ago was the first time we visited there. A 6th grade girl, Esther said “I hope someday I can go to this college.” when she saw the college of William and Mary located in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg.  The dream has come true.

After driving for five hours, when we arrived there, it was 2:00 pm. We were lucky to find a Chinese Restaurant for our empty stomachs and probably it was a last Chinese cuisine for Esther before she started to eat in the school’s cafeteria. After lunch, we got her Student ID, the room key and went to the financial office. Nice people and the campus was full of life at my first sight.

My husband’s college mates knew this was not an easy time for us, so they were there for us from New York and Virginia Beach. We stayed at a beautiful family-style hotel in the Williamsburg Visitor Center. We planned a southerner’s dinner for Esther at Shields Tavern. When you go inside, you’ll be seated at a candlelit table and served the dishes from the 18th century. Steven, one of our friends, gave Esther a blue box with a Tiffany necklace. He said ” it’s a tradition that a Godfather gives the blue box when the girl turns 16th.” Even though he is not her Godfather, he knew what a special event this was for her. 

The big day was coming. Early morning, we picked up the stuff from Bed and Bath which we had ordered in PA and headed to school to help Esther settle in for her first year at William & Mary. We saw many welcome signs, “Williamsburg Welcomes W&M Students,” that was exciting. The school was very nice to send many hands to help student and family move into the room. Esther’s room is on the 2nd floor, located across from the bathroom and beside the laundry room. Not big, but it’s enough to hold two girls. Emily, her roommate, is a beautiful Chinese girl who was adopted at 2 years old and grew up in North Carolina.

Orientation was in the William and Mary Memorial Hall, thousands of students and family all gathered to celebrate this new page of a son or daughter’s life. After the ceremony, students and family were split into two groups to attend orientation sessions till night.

For the next two days, we just tried not to think about Esther, instead to have fun with friends in the beautiful town. We walked in the colonial streets and took in the history of the 18th century. We learned how the people during that time made newspapers, how the court worked and how Capital Hall looked. Something that impressed me was the many workers dressed up and walking around. When you asked them to take a picture or said hi to them, they stopped and spoke as if we were living in the 18th century. One afternoon, we had High Tea in a hotel where Britain’s Queen also had the same High Tea. This was a special experience to me- beautiful china, fragrant tea, fine cakes and a lovely atmosphere.

Sunday, before we headed back home, we met Esther again and went to worship together. I was so surprised, she seemed so mature. That moment I was so glad for her, even though I need the time to adjust. But we all know this step will be a big milestone in her life.

“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.   

Off to a Great Start

New tutor Joni Goldberg writes about her experience after the first few sessions with her student.
I approached VEP with excitement, not only to help someone learn English, but also to learn about their life in another part of the world that is so different from my own. I was just matched with Fatmata, a woman my age from Guinea who is at an intermediate level in English. Fatmata is fluent in French, Mandingo, and Susu which clearly shows she is naturally good at learning languages. She wants to get better at her English so she can begin to live more independently here. Her main goal is to get a job in one month.
Our first few classes went very well. I think we are a really good match. We initially met at the West Chester library but later decided Giant was a better meeting spot for us. We can talk louder and share music.
I always begin each session asking Fatmata if she has any questions. I find this helps shape our lesson based on her needs. For example, she mentioned her need to understand change better so that she can shop on her own. Guinea uses the Guinean Franc and there are no coins used for change. We had fun pretending I was buying things from her and she would count out my change.
Also, we tried out the language experience approach (learned in training). I let her pick a topic that she liked best from a list of topics. She told me about her favorite music and I wrote down everything she said. We then went over it sentence by sentence and she was able to explain her thoughts more clearly. I thought this activity went really well and will use it again.
Another lesson we enjoyed was reading the comics in the newspaper. This is surprisingly more difficult than I thought it would be. The use of play on words and idioms for humor can be confusing and even I found myself tongue-tied when trying to explain them. We found ourselves laughing even if we didn’t get the joke.
At one point I tried to help her start a resume. I saw that I overwhelmed her by it so I knew to hold off on this. I will wait a few more classes before we touch base on this again. As our classes continue, Fatmata is opening up a lot more about her family back in Guinea. She shows me pictures of her family and tells me about their traditions. I love hearing her stories and find this to be the most rewarding part of it all. I am really enjoying my time with Fatmata and always look forward to what new things we will be learning from each other. Thanks, VEP for the great match!