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Grammar students share their language skills

Students in Dr. Lorna Van Gilst's advanced grammar class are learning what she did: the best way to learn something well is to teach it. Eight out of twenty-one students in the class have opted to spend at least one hour a week helping local residents learn to speak English. In the process they are gaining a better understanding of their own grammar-and they're learning to drop stereotypes.

Teresa Taylor and Tiffany Postma meet with two women twice each week to help them learn to speak English.

Teresa Taylor and Tiffany Postma meet with two women twice each week to help them learn to speak English.

Van Gilst, who coordinates a program matching English speaking volunteers with some of the nearly 1000 Spanish speakers in the area, gave her students the option of tutoring and writing a weekly analysis of what they taught in lieu of writing a research paper for the course.

"The class is typically made up of three groups of students: those who plan to be teachers, writers, or ESL majors," she says. She decided that especially for those interested in ESL, the opportunity could be invaluable. As it turns out, several future teachers are also involved and see benefits as well.

The students work from a textbook written for adult non-English speakers, but they are encouraged to draw on their own resources to make the sessions interesting and informative.

Julie Perkins from De Motte, Indiana, finds she must continually think of creative ways to work within the constraints of tutoring an adult while two young children are around. She keeps looking for materials that might be of immediate relevance to a young mother of twenty-three while she tries to teach her the basics of English. Theresa Taylor from Byron Center, Michigan, who does not speak any Spanish herself, says she uses a lot of gestures, but loves being able to explain a concept and have her tutee "get it." Rachelle Dykstra from Hudsonville, Michigan, has found herself in a second tutoring situation as a result of her work at a local daycare center. The young parents of one of the children she cares for asked her to teach them English so they could speak like their four-year-old son. None of these students needs advanced grammar to tutor, but all of them have a better understanding of the language and try to use it to teach more effectively.

"Being in a home also has given me more insight into Mexican culture," says Josh Bowar from Aberdeen, South Dakota. He expects that awareness to shape his dealings with students and parents from other cultural backgrounds once he gets into the classroom.

How much the students use what they're learning in advanced grammar isn't the only issue, though. They're also learning how to teach, interact with, and respect people from backgrounds different than theirs. Sharla Derksen from Brandon, Wisconsin, feels she may be getting more out of the experience than her tutees. She's shared a meal with the couple she tutors and has come to look forward to the sessions. Several of the eight say they don't expect to quit tutoring once their required ten sessions are over.