ESL Teachers are Ambassadors to a Diverse Community

by Laura Knapp, level three teacher

Today, we have 12 students in class (one of six classes). Some students are Japanese, some from Brazil, Korea, China. This is the first time I’ve had a student from Egypt.

They’re here to learn English to help them acclimate to this country. Many are of different nationalities, but their backgrounds are extremely diverse. Some are in the country to accompany their spouse or child while they attend UW. Others are refugees from the Horn of Africa who are trying to get a foot hold in Seattle by staying at Mary’s Place. Some live in nearby apartments, some bus from a homeless shelter.

Each one needs a bit more than just the language. Each one wants to know how they can fit into the culture. So we build these touchstones into our established curriculum. How to order a latte at Starbuck’s. How to book a room with Airbnb. What a potluck is, and what to bring to a holiday potluck. How to make small talk. How to make a doctor’s appointment. And what is going on this crazy election year.

So yes, we teach grammar and vocabulary. We help with pronunciation. But we’re also representatives for the United States; ambassadors, if you will. We help orient our students to life in the U.S. We bridge a gap between their country and ours that few people can, because they spend four hours a week with us learning language. The Language Institute at UPC is like an embassy – you’re always safe here. Safe to ask embarrassing questions. Safe because you know the teachers and other students. Safe because it is a warm and clean place to study English.