This past week was the last week of SOAR for the year. The students write thank-you cards for the tutors at the end of every semester—after so many semesters, the student I tutor has gotten slightly more creative than a standard “thank you” and this card included a drawing of a scary monster reading a book. He had already finished his homework for the day, so after receiving the card, my student and I went to the library to read for one last time. We grabbed his favorite book (which changes every week) from the shelf and sat down to read.
While we were reading, I thought a lot about how far my student has come—when I started working with him, he did not speak any English. I admit, we struggled with communication a little at first. Before tutoring with SOAR, I had never had an opportunity to speak Spanish with a child. Talking to a child in Spanish is completely different than speaking Spanish with an adult—the language barrier seemed much more prominent, and I think a big part of that was that it was difficult for the student to understand that at times, I had no idea what he was trying to convey.
As the focus in the classroom has switched to English, I have seen a significant improvement in my student’s reading, speaking, and writing skills. He can read a chapter book in English with ease and correctly explain, in Spanish, what has happened. Connecting both languages is an easy way to ensure that my student fully comprehends what he is reading, and isn’t just repeating words he recognizes or guessing based on scanning the letters. I have noticed an increase in the accuracy of his summaries, especially this semester.
Another big change that I have noticed is that my student has began speaking to me in English without being asked to and even at times when we aren’t reading in English. He explained to me that although it is harder for him to talk in English, but he wanted to practice. He continued to say that most of his class was able to speak and read English pretty easily and he felt a little behind when it was harder to respond in English.
I knew that there had to be a great external pressure for my student to learn English—but I never imagined that so much of it would come from his peers. Although I have heard the other students in the class use Spanish to explain directions or homework that are originally given in English to my student, it is sometimes done with slight hesitation and often with a bit of attitude. I feel as though this can be incredibly discouraging—to be trying to learn something new and have your peers, who are learning the same new material, not being supportive. Working with my student has helped alleviate some of these pressures in my opinion. I have explained to him on more than one occasion that learning a new language takes time and no one expects him to know everything about English at this point. I have told him that I have been studying Spanish for eight years now and am still learning how to speak and read the language properly. A couple of words of encouragement and a reminder that it’s okay to make mistakes in the learning process is all it takes to keep students motivated. :)