All I was told about the three new adults I was tutoring was that their names were Pedro, Yolanda, and Alfonso, and that their native language was a local Mexican dialect, Otomi, with Spanish as their second language.  Not having any idea what to expect, my carpool set out for Waynesboro.

We arrived and were welcomed warmly at the door.  As we rounded the corner into the living room, more and more kids kept appearing, who were also receiving tutoring.  In a fairly typical scene for Migrant Aid volunteers, we rustled around for a bit, trying to find space for everyone to sit, and finally I settled down at the kitchen table with the three adults.

We conversed for a bit in Spanish, and I asked if they had ever received English tutoring before.  They all shook their heads, so I started off with “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon,” etc.  and moved on to “One, two, three, four…” but it became clear that they already had at least those basics. 

In my experience, the migrant adults are generally very modest about the amount of English they already know, so it can be difficult to judge their skill level.  Happy to move on to more vocabulary, I brought out the Level 1 packets for “Clothing” prepared by Migrant Education.  We were even able to put some sentences together. 

I made motions to signal “It’s cold,” explained in Spanish, and after some prompting with “I need… significa ‘Yo necesito’…” they were able to say “I need jacket.  I need boots.  I need hat.” During this part of the evening, it became clear that they were very literate and somewhat familiar with the English pronunciation of words, since they were able to sound words out (with inevitable errors due to our senseless spelling rules) without hearing me say them first.  They were also very quick with the writing exercise in the packets.  This was a bit of a relief for me, since a common challenge in adult tutoring is limited literacy in Spanish. 

The learning fatigue started setting in, so we took a bit of break to get to know each other a bit better.  Pedro, the father, was very talkative and friendly, and discussed how difficult it was for him to learn English since he is constantly around people who speak only Spanish and when he meets an English-speaker, they often don’t have the patience to help him find directions or whatever other question he might have.

After the break we did some job vocabulary, learning how to say “I work/I worked at…” specific to their skills.  This part had some awkward moments when it became clear that they were currently looking for work, but we practiced vocabulary from their past jobs. 

We also worked on a practice job application with “Name:  Last, First, Middle” and things like that that can be very confusing for Spanish speakers who keep both their father’s and mother’s last names, and add their husband’s too.  I explained that Americans usually just keep either their father’s or husband’s last name, but that they could either make their mother’s last name their middle name or hyphenate the two.  They seemed to think this was quite silly, but they were glad to know how to introduce themselves to English speakers.

My favorite part of tutoring adults in the opportunity to discuss cultural similarities and differences, so I had a great time conversing with Pedro, Yolanda, and Alfonso.  I also greatly appreciated their patience as I broke back into my Spanish! 

Kim is a fourth-year Foreign Affairs and Philosophy major, Spanish minor. She has been part of the Migrant Aid program since her first year at U.Va. (bio from 2009)

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