By Sharon Mager
Several Korean students sit in the Network Center’s Annex reading silently and concentrating as Robert Kim, Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network church multiplication strategist, reads aloud, emphasizing specific phrases, explaining not only the meanings, but how those phrases are used in everyday American life. The students are part of an English as a Second Language (ESL) class that Kim teaches on a volunteer basis on Saturday mornings. It’s a relaxed group with plenty of conversation and chuckles.
Asked to introduce themselves, the students shy away a bit, but when asked to share one thing they enjoy, they quickly respond after Kim’s translation of the question.
ESL Student Linda Lee pulls out a phone and shows her professional looking painting of a colorful flower. She’s in a painting club. Misook Bae is training for a half marathon. Won Koo says she likes to hike, and she has a karaoke machine in her house and has people over to sing. Seog Suk Cho plays Changgo Korean drums. They’re a well-rounded group of various ages and language skills, a few men and several women.
Robert Kim shared with them that he likes football.
Kim first offered the ESL classes to pastors, many who struggle with English, both writing and speaking, but he discovered that though pastors often want to learn, they’re often too busy. So he put a small advertisement in a Korean newspaper.
“I just wanted to make a contribution to help people who want to learn English,” Kim says.
He uses a mixture of what he learned in Network-sponsored ESL teaching classes and some from his own experience. One of his primary techniques is reading books, such as David Platt’s “Radical,” repetitively. They also practice writing letters and emails.
“That’s how I did it,” Kim says. He wants to share what worked for him when struggling with the language.
Kim says students often say to him, “It is so hard to learn English!” Kim, who came to the United States in 1980, empathizes.
“I was an English teacher in Korea, so I understand how horribly they are wrestling with English,” Kim says. “It is a very important tool for immigrants to communicate in their everyday life but it is very hard, and it’s stressful. It’s particularly difficult for people groups from Asian areas …”
Even though many have studied English their whole lives, it’s difficult to really pick up the common usage of the language.
Idioms are especially difficult. Kim recalls how a former Network Executive Director, David Lee, referred to “chewing the fat.” Kim tried to use the term in a restaurant. “The waitress didn’t understand,” Kim says, chuckling.
Kim’s students are learning quickly. “They have been responding, and we’re having a good time,” he says.
“We enjoy it very much,” says Linda Lee.
It’s a small group, about seven people, though not all attend class each week. Kim says offering such a class could easily take place in a home setting. He said it’s a great opportunity to make friends, share life, and share faith.