TOC Image for Jose Flores Adult ESL Article

How does Jose Flores '16 connect with local Allentown adults?

On Thursday mornings during the school year, Jose Flores travels to St. Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church on North Seventh Street. For the past two years, he’s worked in the Adult English as a Second Language (ESL) Conversation Group program. The group helps Lehigh Valley residents improve their command of the English language.

Classes consist of adults who have called the Lehigh Valley home for more than a decade as well as newer residents who have only just recently arrived. The group helps adults learn the conversational skills they need on a daily basis.

Jose — a political science major and Spanish minor — first heard about the opportunity through Beth Halpern, director of Muhlenberg’s office of Community Engagement, and he felt an immediate connection to the program. He grew up in a home where his parents spoke only Spanish, while his Brooklyn neighbors primarily spoke Hebrew and Yiddish. Jose’s first formal experience with the English language came via elementary school classroom discussions.

Adult learners, however, often encounter greater difficulties than children when adopting a second language. St. Luke’s Conversation Group supports these adults through a community environment where they can meet and communicate with other students like themselves.

“When I heard about working with an adult ESL program, I just jumped on it,” says Jose. “I had the same need when I was a child, even though I was born here in the United States. If the help I received in school is something I’m able to provide to an adult learner, then that’s a program I completely support.”

Jose admits that his fluency of both English and Spanish has served him well in the adult ESL program, but he’s quick to point out that command of the Spanish language isn’t required or even expected of volunteers.

“For some reason, when people hear ‘ESL,’ it’s assumed that Spanish is the student’s first language — but that’s not always the case. The ability to converse and explain words and phrases in English is what ESL students need, says Jose. “We’re helping people learn English; it’s not about us learning Spanish or other languages.”

Jose has encouraged friends to join him on his weekly visits, and has also been joined by students from Dr. Rich Niesenbaum’s Costa Rica MILA program. As part of a service-learning class, those students are required to work with Allentown communities before volunteering abroad. Many find that after a few volunteer sessions, they enjoy the experience so much that they stay long past their required hours are complete.

“You see the faces of people who don’t know what you’re talking about; as weeks progress, though, you start talking to those students more, and they start talking back to you,” says Jose. “It’s an incredible experience.”

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