English as a Second Language (ESL) classes are a fundamental building block of the services that Kentucky Refugee Ministries provides to refugees in the Lexington area. These classes are provided to entering refugees during the first ninety days (or until employment is secured) after they have been resettled. The primary goal for the ESL program is to build a foundation of the English language, which will assist KRM’s clients in the workforce and help them better adapt to their new surroundings.
The ESL classes in Lexington are broken down into two different groups: Beginners and Advanced. The Beginner classes contain students that are pre-literate in their native language, to those who speak little to no English. The Advanced class contains students who speak, read, or write some English, to those who have a high level of English competency. Each client’s English proficiency level is tested after arrival using a standardized oral exam.
Lexington’s Advanced class is taught by Amberly. She utilizes a ten-segment unit for her class, which typically holds ten to fifteen students. The small class size allows for Amberly to provide one-on-one assistance during class. The segments include the topics of Food, Family, Feelings, Health, Emergency, Geography, Money, Housing, Clothing, and the Lexington Community. All of these topics are vital for clients’ success and help them feel more acclimated to their new surroundings. Classes are held four days a week, three hours each. Each daily lesson is formatted relatively the same: vocabulary, verbs, conversation, and culture. Amberly utilizes worksheets, writing on the board, and conversational dialogue to teach her classes.
Amberly’s class was working through the Family segment a few weeks ago. Amberly started her lesson by reviewing material from the previous class and then introduced the lesson for the day. She utilized the holiday season’s theme to focus on Thanksgiving vocabulary, American history, and American traditions for the holiday. Vocabulary included cornucopia, Mayflower, tradition, Plymouth, pilgrim, harvest, and feast, to name a few. The class worked on a word-search to identify the vocabulary words, most of which were taught during the previous class period. Amberly walked around the room to provide assistance as needed. She also discussed the meanings of the vocabulary words—concepts that would prove to be challenging for any English-learner.
Amberly’s lesson also covered “C” sounds. Words like chocolate, city, and catch all contain different “C” sounds. This is intuitive to a native English speaker, but is a difficult concept to teach. Amberly provided worksheets to the students that contained different reading passages. Each reading passage contained a myriad of “C” words.
She asked for volunteers to read aloud and then identified words to work on once they were finished reading. She also prompted the students with reading comprehension questions to ensure that they understood the content of the passages. Some of the material contained confusing phrases, one being “ladies’ man”. While this term’s definition may seem obvious, it proved to be quite difficult to explain. Everyone chuckled once Amberly found an explanation that everyone in the class could understand.
The language barriers that exist for KRM clients are both challenging and complex. Not every client arrives with the same level of literacy in his or her native language, and languages represented in one class are typically Nepali, Swahili, Spanish, Arabic, and Pashtu. This creates a wide variance of each client’s needs for one of the most important skills for assimilation into a new environment. KRM is devoted to providing the absolute best learning experience possible for each client served.
For information about becoming a volunteer ESL tutor, see our volunteer page.