October 20, 2021

Princeton U. and YWCA Collaboration Benefits ESL Students and Researchers

By Wendy Greenberg

A collaboration between YWCA Princeton and Princeton University will connect eight students from the YWCA Princeton’s English as a Second Language (ESL) Program with University language students who will offer one-on-one tutoring. 

Among the ESL students are:

Marta, from Columbia, who graduated from a university there as an accountant but works in a different role in the United States. She joined the YWCA last year as a level 1 student and rarely misses a class.

Also Jose, from Guatemala, who has moved from beginner level to level 4. He works in the community at jobs in landscaping and in restaurants, and hopes to give back to his country,
returning to teach English.

Sophie, from China, worked in management, but in the U.S. stayed home to raise children. She wishes to return to work and wants to improve her intermediate level of English.

They, and five others, are part of “Second Language Acquisition and Pedagogy,” through the Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES), an academic program that connects the curriculum with Princeton University’s commitment to service.

The course, through the German Department for Princeton University students studying language acquisition, offers the tutoring as additional practice for the ESL students, who represent seven countries, and also offers practical teaching experience to the college students.

From the Y’s perspective, “the collaboration will be an incredible learning opportunity and a memorable experience for our ESL students on their language learning journeys,” said Heledona Katro, YWCA Princeton’s director of ESL and Literacy Programs.

The goals for the collaboration are to help the Princeton students undertake their research, but also “to provide an extra learning opportunity for our students, to help them to realize their goals of working towards a better future, whether be it a job promotion, studying in college, get a better job, or being able to communicate with their children’s teachers,” she said.

From his vantage point as a University language instructor, James Rankin also sees the collaboration as an opportunity for all involved.

“Learning a language is hard – but so is teaching it,” said Rankin in an email. “Princeton offers seminars and practical training in language pedagogy to graduate students in many of the languages taught here, but there are undergraduates who are also deeply invested in this as well, many of whom take part in volunteer ESL tutoring projects in the greater Princeton community. This course is designed for them. It’s meant to give them the conceptual tools that lead to effective language teaching, but also to provide mentored experience in putting these tools to use in practical ways.”

“As a language instructor myself,” he said, “I think it’s essential to know the field.”

Language acquisition has become an “enormously important” field of study over the last 30 years, he noted. It’s essential to know “how to apply these concepts in real situations, with real people. No research article or book can teach you that. I want to see the Princeton students learn how to listen, plan, and adapt as the tutoring sessions progress, and to see the YWCA students feel inspired, supported, and increasingly confident with their English.”

Initially it was hoped the tutoring would be in person, but classes will be through Zoom this fall, said Katro. The eight students were selected based on a range of language levels and educational backgrounds, which could help Princeton students “to have access to a broader scale,” she said. Ages vary from young adults to students in their 50s. Katro said she was also mindful that the students, who often work full time and have families, could dedicate extra time for 10 weeks in a row.

The class is listed as introducing students “to recent theories of instructed second language acquisition by way of critical reading and discussion, and to pedagogical practice in language teaching by way of participating in one-on-one ESL tutorials with community members, in collaboration with ProCES, during the semester.”

Plans are for the Princeton students to share some customized digital learning tools in a new web application. Also being considered is a collaborative project with ESL teachers during the 2022 winter session, subject to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, according to the course description.