In January 2021 at Mission Central (formerly Missions Fest Vancouver) we presented a seminar, Adventures in Online ESL Classes: A Strategy for Developing a Pathway to Jesus for Immigrants. There were so many great questions from that we promised to get to them all with written out answers. Here they are.
Are you encouraging local churches to start a similar program ESL for immigrants with help from your church/organization? What is the best way to get started with one class in my church? Yes! We love to help other churches get started. We encourage churches to start with a conversation class, finding at least one other volunteer and a potential student or two. Send an email to me at email@example.com and we’ll arrange a conversation so we can help you get started.
How do you promote the Stage 1 ESL classes to those outside the church? Are the students referred to you? Things we’ve tried: advertise on our church website, boulevard sign, community newsletters, other language newsletters (eg., local Chinese language newspaper), and weekly emails. It mostly comes down to word of mouth as people may invite their friends when they are provided a high-quality class experience. We sometimes get referrals from local immigrant serving agencies since we’ve worked to build up a reputation of being dependable in serving students.
What are your qualifications for teaching English? What type of training can people get to start a program in our church? How do you help train your volunteers? Patti has an MA in teaching English and is a member of ATESL. We can help train your volunteers if you’d like. We encourage churches to dive right in and get started with a class. Experience is the best way to learn.
How many volunteers do you have/need? What ratio of volunteers and participants do you find works best? Is it necessary for volunteers to be Christians? How can we encourage church members to be interested to volunteer? Having more than one person is advisable since you can encourage each other. Our ideal class ratio is around 1 volunteer to every 3-4 students, but we believe in being adaptable. With beginners we sometimes work one-to-one, if we have enough volunteers to make this possible. We do have pre-believers who volunteer with us, as long as they respect who we are in wanting to point people to Jesus, and agree to point students to believing volunteers when they have spiritual questions. We find it’s better to have 2 who want to volunteer than 6 who are there grudgingly. There’s more joy and satisfaction in focusing on those who want to volunteer. There are some people who will never be interested in volunteering in a ministry like this, but we trust that the right ones will come.
Do your classes focus mainly on helping with vocabulary or are grammatical structures also integrated? We do different things in different classes. For example, Pronunciation Class focuses mainly on accent reduction, High Intermediate Class has more of a grammar focus, and Art with ESL Class is mostly vocabulary and idioms.
What has worked well for you with participants coming from Muslim backgrounds? Stage 1 classes. Our Thursday women’s class particularly is more attractive to Muslim women because it isn’t a mixed gender class.
What advice do you have for assessing levels online? Do you correspond with the CLBs? We are aware of different assessment tools but choose to let students self-select what class, level, or small group in which to engage.
How do you handle very different English levels in the class? Have you done any intergenerational classes? We will sometimes make impromptu adaptations or even scrap a planned lesson all together. We try to make sure that students are aware that we have different level classes (including asking someone to share that information in a student’s first language). We try to encourage students to join a small group that is appropriate to their approximate level, but we ultimately let students self select.
Since you help with settlement issues, do you work with the government? We do a lot of referrals. Our philosophy is more both/and rather than either/or. We do what churches do well and refer for what the government does well.
Do you focus on getting ESL students in your local city or from all over (Canada or overseas)? With the number of newcomers to Canada drying up, what is your ratio of local vs overseas students? There are many here who want to learn English and the federal government is strongly committed to increasing the number of new immigrants to 400,000+ per year moving forward, so ministry opportunities in this area are only going to grow. Right now 90%+ of our students are local. When most classes go back to in-person we will maintain at least one online class to continue serving students not local to Calgary.
What are some challenges you have seen during ESL ministry? Challenges are normal. No matter what you do, there will be challenges. Don’t be discouraged; it’s just part of the ministry. One seminar we did a few years ago focused on various challenges to have addressed over the years. We’d love to have a conversation if you’d like to talk about specific challenges you’re facing.
Due to Covid, just a few students are coming back. What advice would you suggest? Keep working on providing a quality educational experience for the students who attend each week. This is the best way to grow our classes, keeping in mind that even when we offer great classes, that doesn’t mean that every student will return. One obstacle we’re facing is that some students and volunteers are just not interested in online classes.
Do you have more than one ESL session a day? We have about 12-13 ESL classes per week, so we often have more than 1 class in a day. Sometimes we run 2 (or even 3) classes simultaneously.
Do you make use of the Google Translator app? At times this tool has helped, particularly with beginners.
Do you have advice for students attending online classes with a smartphone or with children in house? Zoom will work for smartphones but it is good to practice to see if you can see documents on a smart phone. We give students access to documents in advance so they can review or even print the lesson for the class they’re attending. Childcare is regularly a challenge, and we can address that when we’re meeting in our church building much easier than when doing classes online. It might be worthwhile looking at alternative class times to accommodate childcare situations.
How can we contribute to your organization in this outreach initiative? www.lovenewcanadians.ca/donate-now/
What materials are available? Do you have lessons about Biblical references and terminology in English? Do we use your free materials as a start? Do you sell your Stage I, II, III curriculum? We have tried to make our resources and curriculum from all three stages available and budget-friendly at: www.lovenewcanadians.ca/services/curriculum
If there’s anything we can do to help you enhance or get your immigrant ministry started, we’d love to chat. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.