Have a Spanish Degree? Teach ESL

Help those in need and actually speak Spanish again

Don't have a degree in Spanish? You are also invited to teach ESL, though you are not the primary audience of this piece.

The purpose of this writing is to convince you - a professional with a Spanish degree - that volunteering with an ESL program is a good idea.

When the Pandemic first hit, I saw an Instagram post from my friend Emily Litman with an invitation to volunteer with The Open Door and engage in English conversations with adults in the greater New York metro area who were learning English as a non-native language. Now that everything had been forced online, the fact that I now lived in Seattle didn't restrict me from hopping on a weekly Zoom call and speaking English really slowly with some wonderful people. I was then invited to co-teach an English basics class weekly with Emily - who did the vast majority of the heavy lifting, with me annotating on the screen for our class of roughly 8. It has been a joy forging relationships, helping others learn English and speaking Spanish again. The students are not exclusively Spanish speakers, but the vast majority are.

For some personal background, I have a degree in Spanish from Penn State, and lived a semester in Sevilla, Spain. Aside from when I accidentally rear-ended a group of South American immigrants, my ability to speak Spanish hasn't really been useful in any capacity. Teaching ESL changes that.

So - why should you volunteer to teach English to Spanish speakers?

To give back in a way that you specifically can

Times are tough right now, and it's important to give back if you can, how you can. If you speak Spanish, especially when working with students who are just beginning their English education, being able to explain an English word or concept in Spanish is key. From a relationship building perspective, it's also comforting to begin a conversation session in Spanish with - "It's nice to meet you. We'll be speaking in English today, but be comforted in the fact that we can jump into Spanish if necessary." When teaching beginner English classes, Spanish is clutch to explain and contrast English grammar against the same sentence in Spanish. We Spanish majors have a considerable leg up in our ability to provide this specific volunteer service to those in need. It's also never been easier, as you don't need to physically go anywhere to help.

To actually speak Spanish again

I need to put the philanthropic reason as number one, but being able to use Spanish again in an actually meaningful way has been an absolute pleasure. It's also fun to pick up on Spanglish that I never learned in the academic setting. (Like "did that guy just say 'cuestiones' instead of 'preguntas?')

The aspect of "There is actual utility in having studied Spanish" is a reward in and of itself.

To have fun, engage socially and form relationships

Emily is the champion of ice breakers and social inclusion, and each hour a week spent with her and the students was a highlight. Working with the other teachers, who taught the same students on a different day of the week, was also fun and pleasant.

Social distancing can lead to social isolation. It's been personally helpful, mentally, to have an hour scheduled weekly to form social connections over Zoom. We're providing education services, but we're also building a community for people in a foreign country who may or may not have any family with them. Some of our students were calling into the Zoom from Colombia, which the need to go online due to the pandemic itself made possible.

In conclusion -

I hope this reading has convinced you that volunteering to teach English is a good use of your time - even if it's just a half hour a week. It's never been easier to help - all you have to do is open your laptop from your couch. If you're interested in Volunteering with The Open Door, hit me up (nate.spilman@gmail.com) and I'll make an introduction.