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!

How Do I Tutor?

This post was submitted by long-term tutor and VEP Board Member, Fred Crotchfelt.  He currently has two students, one from Colombia and one from China.  In addition, Fred leads the VEP Speakers Bureau.

What I do with my student during sessions? This is a question I am frequently asked when I speak about the Volunteer English Program.  There are many methods to tutor our students. One of the benefits of our one-on-one tutorial model is that we can tailor the training to the individual, as opposed to having to fit one method of teaching to a whole classroom of students, all with different needs.

Fred with his students, Gustavo on the left and Jerry on the right.

Fred with his students, Gustavo on the left and Jerry on the right.

In the early stages of my tutor/student relationship we started with the workbooks provided by the VEP office, in addition to general conversation and learning about the person him/herself. It’s really part of the “feeling out” part of the process. That’s the way we tutors find out about our student’s level of competence of English and what the student wants (or needs) to get out of the process.

In my case, both of my students wanted to work beyond the workbooks after a couple of months since it soon became apparent that the real need was conversation . . . to be able to go out in public and communicate in English.

I believe some students stop the tutorial process and leave because they get bored if all they are doing is sitting practicing exercises in a book. The books are important to establish the base learning elements . . . but it’s definitely not all the whole process is about.

So, if we don’t sit and read and do practice exercises from the books, what do we do? How does conversation work and what generates it? After listening to him talk about his weekend and week at work and the politics of our country and his country, the best stimulus is out and around our community. These are some of the things I do with my students:

• Visit his manufacturing plant – I make him explain the how the machinery works, how things get put together, who the customers are, and any other subject which gets him talking in English. I had him introduce me to his boss.
• We have walked around in West Chester and gone to the Exton Mall – we talk about whatever we see or pass.
• We’ll go to eat at a restaurant – he will read the menu to me and he will order by himself
• We’ll take a drive in the car and discuss what we see.
• Both have accompanied me on a speaking engagement.

I’d be interested in learning what other tutors do with their students in addition to the more formal studies through workbooks and in-session tutoring. Let us know! –Fred C.

Editor’s note:  VEP tutors, please join the conversation.   Call Patty at 610-918-8222 if you’d like to share your tutoring experience here on the blog.  Thanks for all you do!

A New Citizen and a Richer Culture

Submitted by VEP Tutor, Joyce Hurt


Jihong and her husband, Bob, at her ceremony.

On Monday, November 26, 2012, my student, Jihong Korbonits, became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. This journey began when Jihong came to the USA from China in February 2009 on a fiancee visa to marry her husband, Bob Korbonits. Jihong was a professor of Physics and Math at a university in China. Traveling with Jihong was her daughter, Yao, who enrolled at Henderson High School. Jihong contacted VEP soon after arriving and began learning English with her tutor from VEP and also taking classes at OIC. After a few months, her tutor left to teach in Japan, and I was assigned as her new tutor. Jihong was eager to learn and worked very hard. She soon knew enough English to apply to Wegman’s Grocery Store where she now works. Her daughter excelled at Henderson and is a sophomore in chemical engineering at Villanova University. Both had arrived speaking virtually no English.  Jihong continues to refine her knowledge of English and can even use idioms and joke with her co-workers. When her daughter finishes college, Jihong hopes to return to school in order to be certified to teach in the US. All of this in three years!

Jihong was one of about 50 immigrants being sworn in at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services located at 1600 Callowhill in Philadelphia. The new citizens represented 34 different countries. We were all shown a video about the United States and another video where President Obama spoke to the new citizens. We sang the Star Spangled Banner and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The ceremony was very moving, and a woman sitting next to me, who had been sworn in six months ago, expressed her heartfelt, sincere gratitude to the people who volunteer to help immigrants learn English. She had the unique experience that her tutor, who was from Hungary, was naturalized at the very same ceremony that she was. I assume that the tutor already spoke English when she arrived. At this ceremony, my seat-mate’s 77 year-old father-in-law, who had never imagined he would become a citizen, was also being naturalized.  He has been here for 20 years but had never learned English as he lived in a community of Colombians in Queens. With his family’s encouragement, learn he did; and he cried as he received his certificate and so did the rest of us!

After the ceremony, Jihong, Bob, and I went to Chinatown where the blend of cultures is shown beautifully. We enjoyed the Chinese markets where Jihong instructed us in the various foods, and we had a wonderful dim sum lunch. It was a day where we appreciated our American freedoms and citizenship, but also realized how enriching and
valuable other cultures are to our lives.

Student and Tutor Celebrate

Student and Tutor Celebrate

Editor’s note:  If you are moved to become an English tutor with the Volunteer English Program, please call us at 610-918-8222, or visit our website, Jihong is one of several VEP students who met the goal of citizenship this year.  Congratulations!