Celebrating English Language Month with Daniela from our Adult Literacy Program

In recognition of English Language Month, we spoke with Daniela, a remarkable volunteer teacher whose experiences span continents and cultures. Daniela hails from Quito, Ecuador, where she was a biologist and environmental engineer. Her journey with the English language began as a child in school. In 2018, she moved to Massachusetts, where she took ESOL classes and eventually volunteered at the Literacy Project.

Last September, Daniela, who had recently moved to NYC, was referred to us by a former ESOL teacher from our Adult Literacy Program. After we connected with her, it didn’t take long before she was facilitating our conversation club!

She shared insights on the critical role English plays in navigating the bustling multicultural hub of New York City, the personal and professional growth it promotes among adult learners, and the teaching methods Daniela employs to make language learning accessible and empowering for everyone.

“Learning a language unlocks the doors to knowledge. Your mind expands when you learn the new words and their meanings. Your perspective of life is transformed and fosters a deeper respect for different cultures. As I reflect on my experiences with Adult Literacy, I have seen how English language education deeply impacts the adults I work with. For many, it opens up new opportunities, both personally and professionally.

When individuals embark on their journey to learn English, their worldview undergoes a remarkable transformation. I have witnessed students who initially felt illiterate, isolated, and unable to express themselves effectively. They lacked the ability to read the news, enjoy their favorite books, write their memoirs, journals, or poems, or even watch their preferred TV shows.

English language education provides adults with a vital communication tool for expressing their thoughts and feelings. It also grants them access to information and resources, fostering independence and confidence.

Moreover, English language education facilitates community building, integration, and engagement. Imagine a world where you are not able to communicate your feelings and thoughts! This is the world of the English learners. As students gain proficiency in the language, they become more comfortable navigating the “real world”, participating in social events, shopping, applying for jobs, and connecting with others, fostering community and relationships.

In essence, English language education empowers the adults I work with to rebuild their lives and pursue new opportunities. It enables them to take risk. They are able to walk forward step by step with confidence. They can forge meaningful relationships and become active contributors to their communities. It is a journey of transformation that gives them the tools they need to start again. English language education allows them to fly, to dream and to live.

One aspect of learning English that can profoundly impact individuals in a multicultural city like New York is their understanding of the culture, diverse communication styles, and the fast-paced nature of the city reflected in the English spoken here (which I have found to be the fastest I have ever heard). 

In the classroom, students typically focus on grammar, vocabulary, and improving their pronunciation. However, navigating the realities of a city like New York—with its rapid-fire English, abundant slang, melting pot of cultures, and countless accents—can pose a real challenge for learners. Many students hesitate to speak outside of class for fear of being judged for their accent, stumbling over words, due to the scary question “what?”, the terrifying phrase “could you speak slowly?”, or not fully comprehending what others say.

Nevertheless, I believe that New York is the best English learning and practice environment. It serves as the perfect laboratory for personal growth and linguistic development precisely because of its diversity, open-mindedness, and commitment to equality. I think, this is a place where students can embrace and celebrate their accents, roots, histories, stories, experiences, cultures, and essence without reservation.

Everything is possible. Be proud of your Accent. Let the world hear your voice. Don’t compare yourself to others. Believe in yourself.

When we step into the classroom, it is easy to feel like everything we have achieved so far has been erased. But that is not true. Our thoughts, our perspectives, our vision, our experiences, and our skills are still there, shaping who we are. Walking into a language class isn’t a step backward; it is an opportunity for growth and makes us gorgeous.

My process has been made possible by the support of the entire team behind the program, by those who believed in me, thanks to my classmates, friends, colleagues, my mentors, and especially thanks to my students who are my teachers.”

Daniela leads two conversation clubs in our Adult Literacy program. We appreciate her dedication to volunteering and her meaningful contributions to this significant area of learning.

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