Former ESL Student Returns as Tutor
Dell'Aringa, Stefanie, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Stefanie Dell'Aringa Daily Herald Correspondent
It's a Wednesday morning and Inge Mack is seated at a table watching a student count pinto beans. Although it looks kind of strange, it's an activity that helps her students learn to speak English.
"Practice, practice and you will get it," she encourages a male student as he slowly counts from one to 10. "Do it again."
Counting pinto beans is just one method Mack uses in her job as volunteer tutor for Level One and Level Two English as a Second Language (ESL) classes held at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake.
The classes are offered to non-English-speaking students ages 16 and over who are not enrolled in high school. Mack is one of 130 tutors in the Literacy Volunteer Program, which requires a minimum commitment of two hours per week. GED, math and reading classes are also offered under the adult education program.
Mack, a 40-year old stay-at-home mom of two from Crystal Lake, is patient, jovial and enthusiastic. Although she's comfortable and confident in her role as tutor, it wasn't long ago that she herself was a student in the program.
"I understand where they come from because I've been there," she said. "But you can learn the language and you can succeed."
In October 1989, Mack moved with her husband and baby boy to Crystal Lake from Burgsins, Germany, a small town 80 miles from Frankfort. Although she had studied British English in school, she had a difficult time when she arrived in the United States.
"When I came here, a lot of stuff I really couldn't understand," she said. "I was shy or scared to speak."
Mostly, it was the slang that confused her. British English is quite different from the way Americans speak, she said. Fortunately, she had a friend from Germany who had moved here and knew of the ESL program.
"She kind of pointed me toward the program," she said. "I registered right away and started that fall."
Twice a week, she attended classes in the evening and within just a couple of weeks, was helping other students in the classroom. She helped the teacher to correct homework. It was obvious she had an advantage over the other students since she learned English while living in Germany. Within just a few months, she had learned all she needed to learn. The teacher joked with her that she should stay on as a tutor, but Mack thought it was a ridiculous idea.
"I could barely master it," she said. "I had so much to learn myself."
It wasn't until November 2001 that Mack finally answered the call to volunteer. She was reading the newspaper and noticed an ad for ESL tutors. All along, she wanted to help but wasn't sure if she knew the language well enough.
"I think the desire never went away," she said. "When I called, I said, 'I don't know if I can really help.'"
But they were happy to hear from her again. Program coordinator Jane Brehm was thrilled to have Mack back in the program as a tutor.
"I think it's always good for students to have someone as a role model," she said. "Now she is fluent in English and she is willing to help the community as well."
The following week, she began her training, which included observing classrooms and then working one-on-one and in group settings with students who come from foreign countries, such as Mexico, Russia and Pakistan. …