FALLS CHURCH, Va. (WUSA9) --- Sixty-year-old Dan Thai uses basic English to describe a restaurant scene. He participates in a classroom activity using flashcards at the James Lee Community Center.
Immigrants face challenges thriving in their new community when they face language barriers. The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) helps adults gain confidence by teaching them basic English. Over 700 trained volunteers teach or tutor about 1,200 students and families each year.
"I want U.S. Citizenship. I want to speak to neighbors," Thai explained.
Three years ago, Thai came to the U.S. with his wife from Vietnam. The retiree did not speak English. But through the summer, he will complete the first level of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at the non-profit organization. Students pay $50 for registration and the first class. Additional classes cost $25 dollars each.
"For those of us who grew up with the language, we forget how difficult it is to navigate in a world," said Kitty Porterfield, Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Students enter the basic class with literacy skills below the fifth-grade level. Learning English empowers immigrants, so they may survive and become an active participant in daily life. Thai begins his influence on his classmates inside the James Lee Communitiy Center.
"In class he's so energetic and he's so eager to participate," Xavier Muñoz, the English instructor, praised Thai who gladly helps his peers.
"Whenever we're doing an activity, he's always the first one that wants to answer the question, because he knows it," Muñoz continued. He works at LCNV as an AmeriCorps member.
"Some of the students, perhaps, might find his communication, rather his pronunciation a bit difficult. But he perseveres."
Muñoz strives to build confidence in his students. The lessons go beyond basic grammar. He uses visual aids, audio tapes and the computer lab. His classes include everyday conversations needed to interview for a job, participate in civics, and go to the bank.
The students' advancement give volunteer tutors and instructors a deep sense of satisfaction.
"One of the most enjoyable things for me, is to make that connection with those students. To share that laugh, to see them become more confident using their English, Dan being a particular example. It's really, really wonderful to see," Muñoz said.
NOTE: Gannett Foundation has provided a grant to LCNV.
Produced by: Elizabeth Jia
WUSA9 & WUSA9.com