In the United States, most people spend their whole lives speaking English. However, there are many people for whom English is their second language or who may not know any English.
Despite this, some try to learn English while attending school with many classes that teach from a fluently English perspective. It’s challenging to get through school while learning a new language, but Grossmont is doing what it can to help by setting up programs and classes for these students.
One of these programs is the YouTalk program, a weekly extracurricular school activity for ESL students to practice their English-speaking skills while meeting new people. The meetings take place every Tuesday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in room 10-106, the conference room in the administration building.
Natalia Aylett, the former YouTalk coordinator, said this program is a chance for students to talk about what’s important to them without the pressure of being graded or judged. Aylett also noted it’s an excellent opportunity for ESL students to practice their English because some students don’t get much of a chance to practice outside of school.
“If you want to meet new friends,” said Lanhua Wedel, a current YouTalk student, “you can join this meeting. It’s good for talking.”
This semester was Wedel’s first time attending YouTalk, and she said she enjoys meeting new people through these meetings. She said she found out about YouTalk when one of her ESL teachers recommended she go to practice speaking English. She said that the meetings were good and helped with her English.
Wedel mentioned that YouTalk involves the class asking simple questions, sharing their hobbies with the group and learning about their lives. She also thinks the YouTalk instructors are friendly.
Although ESL students are the primary targets for the program, YouTalk welcomes everyone, and it’s a great place to meet and talk to international students.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for American-born students to really get to know people from other countries,” Aylett said, “to learn about different cultures.”
Many American-born students don’t think about how their backgrounds differ from international students, yet both could learn a lot from each other. American-born students may also be surprised by how similar they could be to international students regarding their interests and hobbies.
YouTalk aims to help ESL students with their English and give international students a sense of community with other students from similar backgrounds.
Aylett started the program in 2017 because she said she was an immigrant who felt uncomfortable and unwelcomed in America amidst the political climate at the time.
“I’ve been here for a long time, and I feel this way, so what are my students feeling,” Aylett said, “Do they feel welcome on campus, and do they have a space to be with each other and have that feeling of belonging?”
This feeling spawned the idea to start the YouTalk program, and it’s been a place for international students to talk and meet new people ever since.
Well, almost ever since, as the program took a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic. This semester is the YouTalk program’s first time back since it took a break during the pandemic.
Since returning to campus, the program has had a slow start, according to Annette Aagard, the current coordinator of the program. Fewer students showed up compared to how many showed up pre-pandemic.
“I hope that more students will come,” Aagard said.
As the college is working to bring more students on campus, the YouTalk program hopes more members will join, allowing for more opportunities to talk and learn from one another.
Aagard said she tailors the meetings to whoever shows up. Students share their interests, and then she plans events or activities that incorporate those interests. YouTalk meetings also include simple conversation topics for the students to practice their English.
When Aylett was the coordinator, she said YouTalk classes would help out other programs, such as Gizmo’s Kitchen, or feature guest speakers at the meetings. Aagard even took the group to the Hyde Gallery in Building 22 to learn about the newest features of photographic art by Suda House.
Although Aagard hasn’t planned any guest speakers to come at the moment, she said that she’d look into bringing guest speakers as more students come to the meetings.
English is a tricky language, and many don’t consider the challenges of learning it while being a student. Sometimes, school is the only place ESL students practice their English, as their families may not speak English at home.
Whether it’s an ESL student wanting to practice speaking, or a native English speaker interested in learning about other cultures, YouTalk encourages anyone to join as the program aims to unite its students and feel connected with the school and community.