Building bridges through language

By January 29, 2016

USA (MNN) — The United States attracts refugees and migrants from across the globe, who speak a diverse array of languages.

(Photo courtesy Cornerstone University)

(Photo courtesy Cornerstone University)

Three years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of every five U.S. residents did not speak English in their home. Since 2013, numerous crises have hit the global stage, ranging from the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war and the advent of ISIS, to the ethnic cleansing in parts of SE Asia to the drug wars driving people out of Latin and South America. The result, a global humanitarian crisis: 60 million displaced, according to the United Nations. Those who finally succeed in seeking asylum in the U.S. arrive, relieved and ready to start a new “normal.”

As they find a place to call home, the reality sets in. Professor of Linguistics and director of the TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) program at Cornerstone University Dr. Michael Pasquale explains, “Beyond food and shelter, the need to communicate is very important.”

Learning a whole new language is a daunting task, and one that brings risk to an already traumatized family. Who can you trust? “This is a great opportunity for churches to connect with all these new people in their communities,” says Pasquale. “We think about this in terms of relationship-building. It’s a way to kind of front line ‘what are their most crucial needs?’”

(Photo courtesy ABWE/CUNESL)

(Photo courtesy ABWE/CUNESL)

For those who have resettled, the longer it takes to set down roots, the harder it is to connect. In order to thrive, it’s important for them to feel like they’re a part of the community. “They need to be able to read signs, talk to people, function in stores, with the doctor, with the schools. This is just, to me, a very basic way to help meet a very basic human need.”

People who want to help need the tools to know how to do it well. Enter: 15th Annual Cornerstone University ESL Conference. Attendees ranged from students and professors, to pastors, adoption agencies, and refugee organizations learning how to improve their ability to minister and teach ESL. “Specifically, we’re looking at those that are at local churches,” says Pasquale. “[They] may not be professional teachers but are interested in using their desire to reach people, to build bridges, to say ‘I want to know how to do this.’ This is equipping churches, equipping people.

So far, over 100 churches have launched their own programs. “Through building these relationships (we talk about ‘building bridges’), it’s not just to help them into the community, but it’s a way to build the relationships so that the Gospel can be shared. That’s what I see churches are doing (with the material).”

Pasquale adds, “Most of the sessions are ‘you are teaching English; how do you do it?’ …different ideas, teaching vocabulary, using stories, those types of things. Others will be ‘how do you start this?’ or ‘how do you connect with local Refugee Resettlement Programs (in order to be able to connect with what’s going on in your community)?’”

(Photo courtesy Cornerstone University)

(Photo courtesy Cornerstone University)

The keynote speaker is Dr. Michael Lessard-Clouston, Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Lessard-Clouston is the co-editor of the International Journal of Christianity and English Language Teaching. The conference will also feature vendors offering specific materials and resources to help get an ESL program off the ground.

If this whole idea of Teaching English as a Second Language has you in cold sweats because of grammar-induced anxiety, Pasquale says, “The basic English that people need is conversational. They need to be able to introduce themselves and talk. All of us can do that. We want to equip you or show you the different kinds of materials to be able to do that.”

Registration is open now. Early registration is $50 on or before March 15, 2016. $60 after March 15. Early student rate is $30 on or before March 15; $35 afterward. (Registration includes light breakfast, lunch and materials packet. Click here to get started.)

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