The English language for many asylum seekers is a key to the world. For asylum seekers, learning English is not just about learning another language; it's a way to connect to the international community around them, while at the same time challenging themselves intellectually. However, the classes offer more than just a place to improve one’s English. The classes at JACC provide a safe place, and even a feeling of home. Despite what happens at work or at home, class is a different atmosphere. It is a place where teachers and students get to know each other and work together on their English, fostering feelings of support and creating friendships. Most classes are comprised of 4-7 students, who work together as a group through specially designed language-learning books. The ages and backgrounds of the teachers and the students vary, giving the classes a good balance and strong feelings of community.
Rachel, one of our volunteers, shares her experiences with a small story about learning future tense, “Yesterday we started learning the future tense and we began by learning how to shorten I will to I'll and will not to won't. I noticed that the students kept pronouncing 'won't' as 'went' and I explained the difference between the two words. Although they all understood the different meanings of the words, all the students had a hard time differentiating between the different sounds. After several rounds of everyone in the class trying to make 'E' and 'O' sounds, they all insisted that the two words still sounded exactly the same to them! We all had a good laugh about it and then went back to making up sentences about our future plans to cook chicken next week and play football next year.”
So, while our main goal is to teach and watch our students progress, adding elements of fun and laughter to the classes only adds to the feeling of community the classes nurture. Another volunteer teacher, Chavi, explains the demands and rewards of teaching English to a small group of Eritrean refugees. For her, the key to connecting to her students was through music. “I found the experience to be challenging and extremely rewarding. I had never taught English before and discovered that the language is really difficult, especially when compared to Hebrew, which I myself had been a student in similar style lessons. The students were eager to learn the language and would ask questions throughout the class to ensure they understood the concepts. We spent one lesson discussing Bob Marley, analyzing his life and his music. The students really enjoyed the lesson on Bob Marley and became quite animated when discussing why music is so important and how it brings people together.”
On the last day of the previous semester, all of the students from the two different English levels gathered in one of the classrooms together, over drinks and rugelach. Even though it was a hot summer in Israel, it didn't dampen the spirits of our students or teachers, as they all came twice a week to continue learning and improving their English. Together, we celebrated a great semester, and wished each other a happy new year. In October we reopened our classes and we are now holding classes daily in full throttle.