As a group of English as a Second Language teaching volunteers neared the end of their training recently, they got a taste of how their students will feel by learning a few Russian words.
The exercise in an unfamiliar language was intended to sensitize the volunteers to the difficulties of learning a language, said instructor Mary Anne Nelson of California Literacy Inc.
The free ESL classes, which are being offered at three sites in Westlake, are organized by the state Department of Corrections' Exposition Park Parole Unit in Westlake. (The name is a holdover from the office's previous location.)
Mel Seshiki, the unit supervisor, said the English classes are part of his unit's efforts to become more active in the community it serves. Members of the unit have tutored at the Union Avenue Elementary School, coached a youth basketball team and worked with community groups on neighborhood cleanups.
Seshiki organized the first free classes in 1991, attracting about 75 students. This year, he recruited 10 people, most of whom live or work in Westlake, to undergo 15 hours of training in teaching ESL.
"You'd think there'd be a lot of ESL programs around, but there aren't," said Paul Gamberg, one of the volunteer teachers. Gamberg said the training is "helping me get a better perspective on how much work there is to be done to improve this city. We don't communicate anymore."
Volunteer Dotson Bennett said that, in addition to the community class he will teach, he plans to begin ESL classes at his security and maintenance business in Monterey Park, where more than half of his 2,000 employees do not speak English.
The volunteers agreed that knowing English is not quite the same as being able to teach it. "They are learning so much about their own language, things they never thought about before," Nelson said.
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