Grossmont ESL classes create community, seek volunteers

By William Dudley

GROSSMONT COLLEGE—With seven hundred students, Grossmont College has one of the largest populations of English learners among local community colleges.

The population is divided almost equally into two categories: foreign students who came to the United States to pursue education and who will return to their home countries, and immigrants or refugees who are trying to build a new life and new home in the United States.

Challenges in learning English can differ greatly based on the person’s country of origin. For example, students from Russia have trouble with “a” and “the” — such articles do not exist in their native language. different backgrounds and cultures have different challenges in learning English. Native Arabic speakers, on the other hand, have trouble with capitalization.

These are some of the  tidbits of information out of many to be found in Donald H. Harrision’s reportage on Grossmont College’s English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) department, which was recently published in the online journal San Diego Jewish World.

In interviews with department chair Chuck Passentino and instructor Mimi Pollack, Harrison explored some of the activities Grossmont student and teachers do to learn this language. 

ESL students, like all Grossmont students, also have to do writing and essays and such.  The Grossmont Summit web site has published some essays in which students describe some of their home customs and compare them with American ways of doing things.

Grossmont ESL students often do not interact with people on campus other than their classmates and instructors. Passentino and Pollack both are seeking opportunities for greater interaction between Grossmont ESL students and the rest of the Grossmont community. 

Pollack recruits people to serve as pen pals for students. ESL instructor Patricia Bennett has her students interview Americans about various topics for written reports. Passentino invites people from all walks of life who are “native speakers” of English to help his students practice conversation.

Grossmont students and others interested in volunteering for English language practice could contact Passentino at chuck.passentino@gcccd.edu. Another fun option would be to join the International Club, which hosts field trips and other joint activities for foreign and American students.

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Dudley is editor in chief of the GC Summit.  He may be contacted at williamd@gcsummit.com

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