Tillinghurst offers free ESL classes
Daniela Cook, instructor for the intermediate-level ESL class, shows Juan Bartoleme, a native of Guatemala, how to write a check, part of a unit on shopping that students studied Friday at the Tillinghurst Adult Education Center in Columbus.

When Daniela Cook moved from Germany to America 22 years ago as the wife of a Soldier, she knew little English.

Even the English she studied in school was different from actually living in the country, said Cook, who teaches English as a second language at the Tillinghurst Adult Education Center, a program of Muscogee County Schools, in Columbus.

"Twenty-two years ago, I was thrown into this culture," she said. "I was faced with many challenges - homesickness, learning about Army life, driving in the U.S., cooking my country's food with a different measuring system ... life skills that so many people would take for granted. Most of all, I was lacking the self-confidence."

JosAfA Medina, who has studied ESL at Tillinghurst for a year, remembers how difficult it was for him before he started learning English. After working with Cook in her intermediate class, his writing and speaking skills have improved, he said.

"When you come here and you don't speak English, you feel lost," said Medina, who moved here from Mexico. "But now, you can speak, you can go anywhere and speak this language. I feel great."

That's why Cook focuses on helping her students become more independent. It's not just ESL; it's more, she said.

"Of course, we teach reading, writing, conversation, pronunciation, but equally the life skills: making an exchange, comparing prices, the dangers of credit, interviewing skills, e-mail - things we need in daily life without the help of someone else," she said. "We try to give them as much knowledge (as possible), not just English as a second language. I think the biggest message is thinking outside the classroom."

At Tillinghurst, training includes field trips, volunteering and CPR and nutrition classes, allowing students to make broader connections with the community while improving their fluency. Classes are free and open to adults of all skill levels.

The subjects taught in class are practical, said Adriana Peerdomo, wife of a WHINSEC instructor who attends Cook's evening class. The couple arrived at Fort Benning from Columbia five months ago.

"For example, write a check, give directions, practice an interview - it is useful," she said. "In my case, and I think in other wives' cases, it's a good opportunity. This is important. When I return to my country, I need to speak English for my job, for my children, too, and for my life. The class helps me. When I watch TV, when I read a book, when I speak with other people, I understand better."

Based on their level of fluency, students can choose from three classes. After two years in the U.S., Pongsai Corn, a native of Thailand, is now in the advanced class at Tillinghurst.

"The class helped a lot," she said. "It made me a new life because I can understand English. They speak and I know what they say to me, and I can answer. I feel comfortable."

That's just the change Cook enjoys seeing in her students.

"I don't think there are many jobs where you get such a quick return on what you put in as a teacher," she said. "When you see what a difference you've made, it is so rewarding - from the 'I can't do it' to 'I'll give it a try.' Some people want to go back home when they first come here. I hope, some day, that students will say, 'I will never forget my teacher who made such a difference in my life. That's the reason why I didn't go back to my country. That's the reason I really embraced America."

ESL classes are scheduled during both mornings and evenings. The program is also piloting two new classes: U.S. citizenship and professional business writing.

For more information, call Tillinghurst at 706-683-8741 ext. 116, e-mail dmcook@mcsdga.net or visit www.mcsdga.net/schools/centers/tillinghurst.htm.

Page last updated Tue April 28th, 2009 at 15:46