ChangeMakers Lake Chapala

English Classes


By: Carol Curtis

For many expats, it doesn’t take too long to have “retirementitis” raise its bored head.  Lakeside benefits from this condition, since that’s how we have great volunteers to help with sewing clothes for village children, caring for rescued cats and dogs, starting children’s libraries, collecting and distributing food and clothing, and teaching art to the kids. Some expats realize that because they speak English, it can be very useful to teach this to the villagers who want to learn in order to have better career opportunities. And they couldn’t be more correct!

For anyone willing to step into the English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom, the best part is that you will receive more than you give. Teachers improve their Spanish by learning some basic vocabulary along with the students: for example, colors, numbers, clothing, body parts vocabulary and lots of adjectives and verbs. You also get plenty of hugs (now distanced elbow knocks) and cards or flowers. And probably most important is that you have a great purpose for those unoccupied, retired hours.

The San Juan Cosalá English program has taken years to develop the curricula for the different levels and to create materials – both hands-on and electronic.  Although Covid-19 has decreased the number of classes and available teachers, we are still able to host classes for all levels five days a week. And now that we are working with ChangeMakers, we are able to host them in three different classes – levels 2 – 4. What’s special about these classes is that the young women have serious goals and dreams. So, English becomes very important to them.

Charlie McGeehan teaches levels 3 and 4 using Zoom. This has been a challenge that he and the young women have worked to meet. Getting connections that work smoothly was the first challenge. Then it was helping the girls feel comfortable in the Zoom environment. Melding students from different backgrounds into a group that can have fun and be supportive within distance learning is something that Charlie has worked hard to accomplish.  Even when he offered them a long vacation from learning, they sweetly requested that the classes continue.  It became obvious how important these sessions are to the ChangeMakers participants.

The CM girls who can make it to “live” classes come to the English School and have been actively working on many units that will prepare them not only for dealing with expat expectations when confronted in work situations, but also will assist them to score well on the university entrance exam. Helping our CM girls be able to hear English and understand it is just as important as their ability to read it.  What we find is that if the girls are in Prepa (High School), they have a decent ability to read and understand basic English. What is needed is expanding their vocabulary which takes practice. Research tells us that you need to use a word at least 30 times before it can move into your long-term memory.  We are working on this part of the curriculum by tying the vocabulary to what is happening in other parts of CM lessons. For example, the SJC ChangeMakers have done an extensive unit on foods because of their garden project. We tied that to learning about composting and regrowing vegetables. So, they learned many new vocabulary words and then practiced these within the readings about gardening, composting, and the impact home gardens can have on health issues.  Plus, the conversations were constructed around their new vocabulary and readings.  How can you improve your diet?  What should Mexico do about the sugar consumption?    

The Operation Feed English Program is dedicated to helping anyone who wishes to teach English at Lakeside. Partnering with ChangeMakers means that we are able to host classes for the young women and share our materials and strategies with any volunteers willing to help this new non-profit program. Elle Aenchbacher and Carol Curtis are ready to share their units, hands-on materials, plus what they have found works and doesn’t work.  So, if you’re suffering from “retirementitis” email Katie Ibarra at  Katie will let you know when the new group of ChangeMakers is ready for ESL classes to begin in Ajijic / San Antonio Tlayacapan, probably in January. You will find the limited hours you spend teaching English are the most rewarding ones you have. 

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