Saturday, January 27, 2007

¿Comprende? Language program expands at FBC

Telegram Staff Writer

Simple. If you know the language like you know the back of your own hand.
But for people learning English, the components of these words are as abstract as algebra's x.
The u in computer sounds like you and ewe, the latter a female sheep, but nothing like the u in your uncle's perturbed public image consultant.
Chalkboard starts with a double-lettered sound of ch as in church. Its ch is quite different from the k-like ch in anchor. That ch steals the sound of k in ankle.
And neighbor's a word full of tricks. The word plagues some native English speakers well into the fifth-grade.
Its nei rhymes with a horse's whiny nay, and the not-so-ghostly gh may as well not be there for the lack of a detectable sound.  

Obscure rules, true in one instance but not another, are the topics the novice English speaker must master to communicate effectively.
The English-Second-Language (ESL) program at First Baptist Church (FBC) in Temple helps foreigners achieve that goal. Their livelihood depends on it.
'There is a time limit,' said Virgie Henry, a trained linguist who works with the Spanish ESL adults at FBC. 'When you're new to a country, you have to know that culture. You've got to get a job. You've got to get your life started.'
Without words, that's hard to do.
'You have to be able to communicate in the country you live in,' said Virgie's husband, Larry Henry. 'It has been our call to help (Spanish and Mexican) people gain the foundation they need to succeed in English-speaking places.'
Mr. and Mrs. Henry lived in Spain for 31 years, serving as missionaries on the International Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention. Nearing their retirement, they relocated to Temple in March of 2006 so that they could be closer to family.
They both hold bachelor's degrees in Spanish: Larry from Waylan Baptist University and Virgie from Hardin-Simmons University. They also studied the language in Spain at the University of Granada.
Also while in Spain, Mr. and Mrs. Henry helped countless Spanish speakers learn English as they planted four Christian churches.
'It's rewarding because they never forget the kindness you were willing to extend to help them learn,' Mrs. Henry said. 'They become quite beholden to you.'
And the relationship goes both ways.
'We were in the same boat,' Mr. Henry said. 'We were there as professionals, but we had to be able to communicate in our community. We had to go shopping and get directions. Day-to-day stuff. We had to speak what they spoke.'
Mr. and Mrs. Henry now serve as English tutors for Spanish speakers in the FBC ESL program from 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
The couple will also lead International Fellowship, a Spanish Bible study, from 9:45-10:45 a.m. on Sundays. Starting Sunday, Jan. 27, the Fellowship will be open to all ESL participants.
'The Bible study will be mostly in Spanish to begin with,' Mrs. Henry said. 'As time goes on, we'll be able to incorporate more and more English.'
International Fellowship will precede the 11 a.m. worship service. The Henrys said they hope the Bible study participants will choose to stay for worship.
'It will help for them interact with English speakers,' Mrs. Henry said. 'And hear the language used in the sermon and music.'
The ESL program at FBC-Temple is 5 years old.
'We mostly work with Spanish speakers,' said Carol Holcombe, director of ESL and FBC. 'But we're here for any adult who wants to learn English. We've had people from Bolivia, Russia, Nigeria and Vietnam go through the program.'
People are not required to attend worship services to take advantage of the church's ESL program.

Korean ESL
On Tuesday, Jan. 23, FBC started an ESL class, especially for Koreans. It will meet 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays through April. Class topics were idioms, grammar, writing, pronunciation, accent reduction, vocabulary and conversation.
The idea for implementing the Korean ESL class started in December.
'We talked to some people at Temple Korean Baptist Church (on Main Street in Temple), and there was interest in starting a group up,' Ms. Holcombe said. 'And when a person qualified to teach it suddenly entered the equation, it was clear that we were supposed to do it. It was a God thing.'
Melissa Pena is the Korean ESL teacher at FBC. She earned her degree in international relations from Midwestern University in Wichita Falls. For six years in Houston, Ms. Pena said she earned her living as a private Korean tutor.
'I'm in town for family. My grandmother needs some help, so I'm here for her,' Ms. Pena said. 'But I've missed teaching. So I'm glad this opportunity came up.'
FBC Volunteer Denise Hollingsworth assists Ms. Pena with her teaching duties.
'Between the teacher and student, a wonderful friendship develops,' Ms. Holcombe said. 'The students keep in touch. It can be a very rewarding experience, hearing a success story while getting a hug from a former student.'
The main goal, of course, is for ESL students to 'feel at home' with English.
'The most important thing we can do is give them a chance to practice,' Ms. Pena said. 'We learn from each other, and we have fun doing it.'
Laughing isn't prohibited in class by any means, said Kay Bacon, director of missions at FBC.
'The ESL participants are always asking for more time together, for fellowship,' Ms. Bacon said. 'They end up making friends with each other. So next month, we'll have a time set up just for that.'
International Fellowship, open to all ESL students, regardless of native language, will start Thursday, Feb. 15.
'It will be time for devotion, fellowship, crafts and refreshments,' Ms. Bacon said. 'More time to practice English.'
First Baptist Church is located at 102 W. Barton in Temple. For information, call (254) 773-6866.

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