“Call An American”

by Josh Johnson, Advanced Plus Winter 2014

I’m coming to the end of my first teaching experience at Washington English Center and have thoroughly enjoyed teaching Advanced Plus in the company of my wife, Kelsey, a much more experienced teacher than I am. It has been a great class to teach but also challenging as their language skills are, of course, advanced and the students often have questions that strain my understanding of the grammar and logic behind American English. In this short blog post I wanted to offer a teaching activity that we have found useful during the term. We call it “Call an American” and it’s been entirely too much fun.

The premise is simple: throughout the American Ways book there are suggestions for students to interview an American on various topics such as work, values and religion. Instead of using one of our funnier student’s idea to shout the questions at a passersby from the class windows, we have arranged for the class to make phone calls to Peace Corps friends and, in a pinch, to family. First, we usually post a notice to Facebook with the time and topic to see who’s available. Then we use the portable speakers from the Volunteer Lounge to project the phone call so that everyone can hear. We divide up the questions before hand and place the call to “The American” and the students ask their questions and record their answers.

The “Call an American” activity is valuable as it is a real challenge to understand someone over the phone where there are no visual cues to draw upon. Additionally, our friends and family have not gone through teacher training so they speak quickly, use idioms, and bring up interesting slang. Plus, it’s great for the students to hear viewpoints beyond what we can provide. Lastly, it brings great joy and satisfaction to the American on the other end of the line as they can contribute to language learning and learn about Washington English Center without even leaving their home. When we called my brother he answered the phone while riding his bicycle which brought a lot of amusement to the advanced plus class.

I hope that you can use this no-cost, effective and fun activity in your own classes!


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Students Write: Why We Like the Washington English Center

At the end of winter term, several students in the Advanced Plus class were so enthusiastic about their experience that they volunteered to write the following short essays for the blog. Elvia is from Colombia, and Abdallah is from Sudan. Thanks to both!

Learning about Different Cultures in Our Advanced Plus Class

By Elvia Cortés

In this competitive business world to be successful and get a better job, we need to learn English. A good option for all new immigrants who arrive in Washington, DC, is the Washington English Center, located in Our Lady Queen of the Americas Church.

WEC offers a high quality, affordable English language program, a good computer lab with programs to learn English, and a warm and welcoming environment to support students.

In the winter term, for example, we focused on American values, attitudes and cultural patterns. It’s a very important topic, not only for foreign businesspeople, visiting scholars, or government officials, but even for tourists.

Culture influences every single aspect of business communication: how to show politeness and respect; how much information to give; how to motivate people; when, how much, and how loudly to talk and laugh; how to organize a letter; even what size paper to use.

Let me compare the two cultures: North American and Latin American. One is an individualist society and the other a collective society, so we have different relationship styles and communication patterns that can generate conflict and misunderstanding.
Each Latin country has its own particular history and cultural background. Latin cultures are the result of their Indian, Spanish, African, French and, lately, North American heritage.

Latinos are sensitive, warm, affectionate and demonstrative; as a group we tend to avoid competition or activities that will set us apart from our own group. For Latinos, the parents, the family, and the friends are the most important in life. Family members visit one another frequently.

American ideas of self-reliance and equality within the family are necessary to sustain the ideals of freedom, democracy and progress. In an individualist society like the United States, communication is more efficient than in a collective society. American people speak directly and to the point, while the word “No” for Latino people can hurt relationships.

Finally, I consider that every culture is right in its own way and to be bicultural is as useful as to be bilingual. Each culture can contribute. Latinos can learn and understand from Americans their traditional value system: to be self-reliant, to be competitive and hard workers. Americans can learn about the contributions of the Latino community in the United States. Both cultures share the same Continent, and Spanish is the most spoken non-English language in U.S.A. homes. Americans can learn more about our countries and our culture, and share and enjoy our delicious food recipes.

Congratulations to the terrific Advanced Plus class at Washington English Center! This picture shows about half the class and includes students from Sudan, Argentina, Vietnam, Mexico, and Colombia, plus four of us teachers. Abdallah is in the back row second from left, and Elvia in the front third from left.

The Advanced Plus class at Washington English Center. This picture shows about half the class and includes students from Sudan, Argentina, Vietnam, Mexico, and Colombia, plus four of us teachers. Abdallah is in the back row second from left, and Elvia in the front row third from left.

Why We Love the Washington English Center

By Abdallah Abualgasim

We are honored to be students at Washington English Center and we would like to say thanks very much to the WEC administration and all its staff for giving us this great opportunity to learn the English language in the United States and helping us grow as immigrants.

And we would like to say a humble thank you very much to our great teachers. We appreciate their devoted efforts and their punctuality, focus, good explanations, and smiling faces. Kehan and Chris, Louise and Larry, Kelsey and Josh, Cathy and Alayna — we love all of you and God bless you.

We love, admire and cherish this place because it gives us a chance we believe we can’t get elsewhere right now. Among the strong points of WEC are these:

  • WEC is a good program that helps us improve our English skills!
  • WEC has qualified teachers who have experience with different types of immigrants and who are committed to their teaching.
  • WEC gives us a good opportunity to meet people from different countries and cultures, which makes the classes very interesting.
  • The teachers are of different ages and professions and have different teaching styles.
  • The rooms are comfortable.
  • The books are good.

We are wondering if WEC could offer these things:

  • More slang, idioms, expressions, and grammar
  • More tips on American culture, for example, living in DC
  • More pictures and videos
  • TOEFL exam preparation class
  • More information about US laws, including workers’ rights

I think we could have some activities like drama, acting scenes from our experience, writing poems, and singing at the end of the semester.

We learned a lot this winter, including these idioms:

  • Thank God it’s Friday
  • Give someone an earful
  • Not all things that glitter are Gold
  • Brown bag
  • Pink slip
  • Turn the other cheek
Abdallah receives his certificate for perfect attendance. Congratulations!

Abdallah receives his certificate for perfect attendance from teacher Kelsey Lyle at winter term graduation. Congratulations to all the students at Washington English Center!

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Helpful ESL Websites for Teachers and Students

Over the past few years, our volunteers have passed on websites that they have found to be helpful when teaching grammar, listening and reading exercises, and short videos that work well as a warm-up. They are not limited to use in the Language Lab and can be used by students outside of class as well. Here are a few of the top sites recommended to us. If you have found helpful websites that you use in class or refer to students, let us know in the comments!

http://www.rong-chang.com is a website put together by Dr. Ron C. Lee who has created an extensive ESL website, updated regularly and linked to other ESL websites. There are sub-categories for Spanish Speakers, Business English, Grammar, Writing (for all levels, including Beginners), Listening, Idioms and Slang and resources and tips for teaching and lesson planning.

http://www.wiredforbooks.org/ streams hundreds of hours of spoken audio in English–classics, short stories, lectures, and author interviews.

http://www.eastoftheweb.com is a reading website with various categories and interactive elements and a great section for children’s stories and fables.

http://www.voanews.com/ Voice of America is a good site for ESL news and current events in short clips. They also have a section called Idioms in a Minute (can also be found on youtube), which would be good for most intermediate to advanced-level students.

http://www.learnenglish.org.uk is The British Council’s website for all English learners, adult or children, and all English Educators. They have great listening exercises and videos, grammar and vocab exercises and sections on Business English and Academic Writing (Writing for a Purpose)

http://www.english-the-international-language.com The Reading Room gives students the opportunity to practice your reading skills and improve vocabulary. Students can practice their reading comprehension by using the True/False questions at the end of each story to test their understanding and receive instant feedback. Best suited for more advanced students.

http://www.curriki.org is a Global Education Community for more advanced students who wish for lessons on math, social studies, science and health English Language Arts. This site is also great for teachers looking to find full courses, lesson plans or practice exercises for all levels, submitted by ESL professionals.

http://www.englishclub.com Divided into activities for students and resources for teachers, englishclub.com is a good place to read teaching tips, find ESL jobs, identifying and helping students with dyslexia, and TEFL articles. For students, it’s a great base site for games, quizzes, forums, jokes, vocabulary, writing, reading, pronunciation, grammar, articles and ESL Exams (TOEFL, TOEIC, and the Cambridge ESOL).

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The New Lending Library at Washington English Center

By Michele Pagan, Class 2A instructor

One of the most surprising things that a student once asked me was, “What else can I do to improve my  English?”

That was hugely surprising to me, because I was thinking that they are immersed in English, just by living here.  They are living a total-immersion course -  an opportunity that I myself never had.  Yet, here was this person asking me what else they could do to increase the content of English in their daily lives.

I now have the answer for anyone wanting to make serious progress in their understanding of English:

Have you heard about the new LENDING LIBRARY at the WASHINGTON ENGLISH CENTER?

The library is set up in the room opposite the Volunteer Lounge, and students may borrow books on the Honor System: all they need to do is write down their name and the name of the book they have borrowed.  They can read the book any time they want to, bringing the book to class to ask their instructors for help when they just can’t get past a particularly difficult passage.

Lending Library

How do I know this activity helps to improve an understanding of English?  It’s because I learned that myself, when I was studying French.  I had only studied French for 3 years in high school, but as an adult living in Washington DC many years later, I began taking classes at the USDA Graduate School, in the evenings.  One day, while visiting some French friends at their home, I picked up a copy of The DaVinci Code which was lying on a table, and “Voila!”, I was able to read the first page!  Then, I was able to read the 2nd page!  It wasn’t totally error free, but I was able to understand about 90% of the content that I read, needing only to look up a few words in each paragraph.

After that experience at my friends’ house, I returned home and ordered myself a copy of this book from Amazon.com, in French, of course.  From that, I began to listen to French radio at the same time that I sat down to read my French copy of the DaVinci Code.  With one hand on a BiLingual Dictionary, the other hand holding my novel, and my ears hearing both French voices on the radio, and my own voice speaking French aloud, I made huge advances in my French language abilities.

I now tell my students that this is the absolutely BEST way to improve their English:  sit down to read your English novel, turn on any talk-radio program on the radio, and read aloud to themselves.  It’s like being in English class, at any time of the day or evening.  This practice creates a multi-sensory way to learn English: your ears are hearing English conversation on the radio, your ears also hear you speaking English, your eyes are reading English, and your mouth is developing the muscles to speak English correctly.  Best of all, your brain is tying all these sensory experiences together, to help you understand and speak better English. Your brain really needs to hear you speaking correct English, and it will!

Try it, you’ll like it, and you will amazed at how much your English improves.  I tell my students that improvement won’t happen immediately, but they will definitely see a huge improvement over time.

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Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and More: Foreign Language Classes in DC

By Cathy Sunshine

Does teaching English ever make you want to be on the other side of the desk for a change, learning a language, or brushing up on one you learned a while ago? It has had that effect on me. For one thing, I wonder if the experience of studying a language, which I haven’t done for years, might help me become a better English teacher — or at least understand better what my students are going through.

So I’ve started looking around for Spanish classes, just to see what’s out there. In the process, I found that DC has an incredible array of resources for learning just about any language you can think of. Universities, community colleges, commercial language schools, cultural institutes, embassies, nonprofit community groups and churches offer classes. There are also many informal opportunities to practice speaking a language, such as Meetups.

Below is a very partial list of what’s available in our area. The list focuses on group classes that individuals can enroll in. It doesn’t include schools that only offer private or semi-private instruction, or single individuals giving lessons. Details of levels, times, start dates, locations, and cost are usually available on the program’s website.

I didn’t make any attempt to rate quality. YMMV. Some of the questions to ask before signing up with a program: Is the class taught entirely in the target language? Will the instructor be a native speaker? What’s the average class size, and is there a cap? How do they place you in a level, and if it turns out to be the wrong level, what options do you have? What’s the policy on make-up classes if you have to miss a session?

A teacher at Global Language Network, a nonprofit organization offering affordable classes.

Global Language Network, a nonprofit organization, offers affordable classes taught by volunteers.

Educational institutions

Universities and community colleges in the area offer a wide selection of language classes, some of which may be available to nondegree students. Instruction is likely to be on the formal side and, particularly if you want academic credit, may be costly. Two institutions that offer classes specifically for nondegree students are:

Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School
Part of the DC public school system. It mainly serves ESL students, but also offers conversational Spanish for English speakers at its campus in Columbia Heights.

Graduate School USA
Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu
Previously known as the US Department of Agriculture Graduate School. Day, evening, and weekend classes downtown in the L’Enfant Plaza area.

Commercial language schools

Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic
One of the original language schools, now a global franchise. Downtown, Thomas Circle.

Casa Italiana Language School
Downtown, Judiciary Square area.

Fluent City
French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew
Evening classes in Dupont Circle area. The program is run out of Brooklyn, NY.

Go Spanish Now
Classes at locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. It’s not clear from the website exactly where — it seems to vary by class.

International Center for Language Studies
Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Russian
Evening classes downtown.

International Language Institute
Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Large program with many languages and levels. Dupont Circle area.

International School of Languages
Spanish, French, Mandarin, Farsi
Bethesda, MD.

Middle East South Asia Language Institute
Persian/Dari, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Pashto, Amharic, Armenian, Darfuri, Hebrew, Kurdish, Turkish, Sudanese Arabic, Tigrinya, French
Foggy Bottom, Farragut, and Dupont Circle locations.

Spanish Tutor DC
Evening classes in the Farragut North area.

A class at Spanish Tutors DC.

A class at Spanish Tutor DC.

Cultural institutes and embassies

Alliance Française
Dupont Circle area, about a block from Washington English Center.

Dutch-Flemish Language Courses in Washington, DC
Classes at the Belgian Embassy in DC, with another location in Virginia. Aletta Schaap, a 2B teacher at Washington English Center, says, “I recommend these classes highly.”

Downtown, Gallery Place area.

Italian Cultural Society
Bethesda, MD.

Japan-America Society of Washington, DC
Farragut North area.

Korean Cultural Center
Dupont Circle area.

Middle East Institute
Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish
Dupont Circle area.

A class at GoSpanishNow.

A class at GoSpanishNow.

Nonprofit community programs and informal groups

Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle
Dupont Circle area. Charges a fee, but much less expensive than the commercial schools.

Global Language Network
More than 60 languages (a selection of languages and levels is offered each term)
Classes are taught by volunteers who are native speakers of their language. This program’s enrollment model is unusual, basically a lottery system. The more popular languages fill up quickly. You pay a deposit and then get most of it back if you miss no more than two classes. Classes meet in Foggy Bottom and various other parts of the city.

Various languages
Meetups are informal get-togethers focusing on a shared interest. They typically meet in a public place like a restaurant, and different people may show up each time. There are many different language-focused Meetups in DC and its suburbs. In a some cases the organizer may charge a token fee. Several of the language Meetups seem to be associated with language schools and may serve to attract students to fee-based programs. Meetups aren’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind a loosely organized encounter with an ever-changing cast of strangers, it can be a good way to practice your favorite language with no formal commitment and almost for free.

Members of the DC French Meetup enjoy dinner at a restaurant.

Members of the DC French Meetup enjoy dinner at a restaurant.

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