As a high-school ESL teacher, I’ve had the joy of interacting with students from a variety of countries around the world: Tanzania, Burundi, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Brazil, Myanmar—and the list goes on. While I enjoy guiding my students along their journey of learning English, one of the highlights of my career is meeting with their parents and families. For me, parent-teacher conferences always occur through an interpreter or online translation tool, and more often than not, they end with heartfelt expressions of gratitude from moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It is a deeply moving experience for me.
While the kids I work with learn to communicate in English fairly quickly, their extended families struggle. It is precisely for them that The Foundry’s revised, Bible-based ESL curriculum is now available. Through this resource, you have the opportunity to meet not only a practical need in your community (learning English) but also a deeply spiritual need (introducing people to Jesus).
So what goes into creating Bible-based ESL classes in your church? Here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Familiarize yourself with the curriculum. It is written simply and in easy English for the learner yet builds on the basic tenets of the Christian faith. The three study books focus on the life of Christ, what Christians believe, and how Christians grow. All the lessons include a scriptural focus, vocabulary words and definitions, easy-to-answer study questions, and additional scriptures for background reading. Answers to study questions can be found in the back of each book.
The Handbook for Teaching Bible-based ESL is an excellent resource you’ll want to spend some time reading. It provides a closer look at the purpose and history of ESL ministry as well as practical tips for assessing the need in your own community. It also provides suggestions for additional resources for students, including easy-to-read Bibles and where to find them.
2. Recruit your teachers. I am often asked if ESL teachers need to speak another language. While knowing your students’ language is definitely a plus, the truth is that several languages may be represented in your classes. Instead, look for teachers with a God-given motivation to serve others. Students quickly realize when someone has a sincere heart. And with the advances in technology today, it is easy to find online translation resources when the need arises. Otherwise, simple English will be just fine.
3. Set the time and location for classes. Consider a time when childcare can be provided—perhaps a Sunday or Wednesday evening. Also keep in mind that your students are hardworking adults who may only be available to learn English after a long day on the job. You’ll want to offer classes at a time when it’s convenient for them to attend. You might even recruit church members to bring snacks, since some of them may not eat dinner until after classes are over.
4. Get the word out. Create appealing flyers, translating them into languages represented in your community, if possible. Then distribute the flyers throughout the community. Places like the library, apartment complexes, and local restaurants often have bulletin boards where patrons can post community announcements (be sure to ask for permission first). You can also visit specialty grocery or food stores and talk with both employers and customers who might be interested in learning English. Be sure to include up front the fact that it is a Bible-based English class.
5. Welcome your students with open arms. Since the Bible-based ESL curriculum has been written with the intent to introduce people to Jesus, you’ll want to make your students feel comfortable as soon as they walk through your church doors. Welcome them as Jesus would. For some, it could be the first time they’ve stepped foot in a church.
6. Level and organize your classes. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process, but you do want to divide students according to their English-speaking abilities in order to better meet their needs. This can be done by giving simple commands to see if students understand or asking students to read a short paragraph in English aloud. Another approach would be to show them a picture from a magazine and ask them to describe it, both orally and in writing. Set aside your first night of classes as a time of registration and evaluating to help organize the classes. For more specifics on how to level your classes, chapter 8 of the ESL Handbook provides step-by-step instructions. As students progress through the curriculum, evaluating their progress will be an ongoing part of your instruction. Some of the evaluation suggestions provided in the ESL Handbook include class and homework assignments, cooperative learning activities, simple conversations, and student portfolios.
7. Keep the instruction interactive and learner-centered. Appendix A of the Handbook provides you with a variety of additional resources and activities suitable to supplement your curriculum. These range from fun jazz chants to online games and picture dictionaries. I have found that my students love these out-of-the-box activities and ask to do them more!
Interacting with people from around the world through ESL classes has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Pointing them to Jesus is an even greater joy. As you begin a Bible-based ESL ministry in your church, I pray you find that same joy.