Jessica Berger is an enthusiastic and experienced classroom volunteer who spends many hours each week helping refugees and immigrants with their English skills. For the past 18 months she has served as a regular volunteer in IINE’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes in our Boston location, and before then, as a student had spent time volunteering at UMass Amherst with international students and as a conversation partner.
So it stands to reason that Jessica considered herself something of a veteran who could roll with the dynamic vibe of an ESOL classroom and someone very familiar working with students whose first language is not English.
But all of her experience hadn’t prepared her to respond to one special task she found herself completing recently.
This past summer, one of our ESOL students from Kazakhstan asked Jessica for help writing a wedding speech. While surprised, Jessica was thrilled to help. The student’s daughter was marrying an American man, and was very nervous because she knew that half of the wedding attendees were going to be fluent English speakers.
“That was my first time ever writing a wedding speech,” Jessica laughed. “We wrote it, I recorded it on my phone so she could listen to it and practice pronunciation. I asked her ‘what do you think we should say, what are you trying to convey?’ And over multiple breaks we went ahead and wrote it.”
“She came back afterwards and showed me pictures, and said that someone at the wedding had complimented her speech, saying ‘Wow, you’ve progressed so much. That was a beautiful speech.’ That was a really high point for me.”
Special moments like this with students are why Jessica volunteers. “Classes become such a family. I know everybody so well,” she said. “I love how during breaks students will show me pictures of their family, tell me stories, and be so excited about something in their lives like getting a driver’s license.”
On top of the connections Jessica had made with students, she enjoys seeing the progress they make each week in their English. Volunteering in the ESOL classrooms had made Jessica realize just how difficult English is to teach and learn.
“English makes no sense! I remember teaching the phrase ‘dressed up’ because students hear dress and imagine a woman’s dress,” Jessica said.
But the students aren’t the only ones acquiring knowledge in the classroom. Jessica says she learns from the students, who come from all over the world and have plenty to share. In the future, Jessica hopes to continue to volunteer and eventually gain her Test of English as a Foreign Language certification so that one day she can teach in her own classroom.