GARDEN GROVE : ESL Tutors Find the Right Words

Seated amid four elderly Asian immigrants, Carol Albright, 65, tapped on a drawing and slowly enunciated the word dentist.

"Dentist. . . . What does a dentist do?" she asked, coaxing answers from each of her students in turn. Hearing them pronounce their answers properly, she smiled, nodded and pointed to a new picture.

Although she never taught as a profession, Albright already has made a name for herself among students as an excellent tutor. She is one of 12 seniors who help teach English to immigrants from all over the world as part of a Garden Grove school district program that began in February.

"So many people say, 'I've never taught. How can I teach?' But you don't need to know how to teach; it's common sense," said Albright, a retired manager for an electronics firm and a Garden Grove resident.

Designed to provide seniors with meaningful work, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program offers immigrants one-on-one help in classes on English as a second language. During a break from one recent ESL class, Albright said the RSVP program is important because it makes learning English easier for students struggling to understand a new country.

"I've spent a great deal of time in foreign countries, and I know the frustration of not speaking the language. If I can be just a little bit of help, I'm glad," she said.

Bo Van Minh Chau, 55, who moved to Garden Grove from South Vietnam, said he and his classmates appreciate the extra attention the tutors provide. "The teacher has no time to help everyone in the class. (The tutors) help us a lot."

Jackie Tolsma, who coordinates the program, said that recent budget problems spurred the creation of the program. "With lower budgets and bigger classrooms, we needed some kind of help. We targeted the senior population because they have the time and the life experience to do it."

Tutors have put in more than 100 hours a month since the program began. Also, although RSVP targets seniors and has tutors in their early 80s, the average age of the volunteers is about 60, Tolsma said.

Teacher Louise Gustafson said the program makes learning easier for the students because "there's another person that can tell them about the culture."

Also, because many cultures revere teachers, students often are more comfortable asking questions of tutors, she said.

Tolsma said that the program will probably expand, and that new volunteers always are needed. For more information, call (714) 663-6153 weekdays between 9 and 11 a.m.

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