Breaking the Language Barrier: English Classes in Reynosa

This summer, five people applied and were accepted for internship positions here at Faith Ministry—positions normally reserved for young persons aged eighteen or older. However, during her second trip here in March, sixteen-year-old Lizzy Herod knew that she wanted to make it work. A rising high school junior, Lizzy is spending the next year studying abroad and will not be able to accompany her church on their annual trip to Reynosa.

However, nostalgia for the incredible community here wasn’t the only driving factor behind Lizzy’s desire to be a summer intern. A member of the nonprofit organization Girl Scouts since the age of six, Lizzy plans to fulfill her Gold Award Project by creating an English curriculum for the local volunteers of Faith Ministry. She says, “I was planning on doing something with Ministerio de Fe no matter what…the Girl Scouts organization requires that we create something original for the whole community, something that they don’t already have. So I talked to Colleen and she said that many people teach English classes but the ministry doesn’t have a set curriculum.”

With that, Lizzy’s project was born. She has wrapped up her first week in Reynosa, during which she test-piloted material for her curriculum. Each day she taught two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with students ranging from the age of twelve to thirty-five. The afternoon class garnered an average attendance of around eighteen people, mostly local volunteers who attended after a long day of work. Lizzy’s students have “received [the material] very well, and picked up a lot more than expected” and Lizzy notes that oftentimes class would end early for this reason. Overall, she says that her students “really want to learn and really show that, and it’s very inspiring.”

One might question, however, the reason for this determination to learn English. Sure, it would be useful for communicating with the American teams, but the language barrier has yet to prevent any houses (or relationships) from being built. The vast majority of conversations in the lives of the local volunteers are in Spanish, not English. And yet, in the makeshift classroom located in the ministry’s church, there is an undeniable excitement about learning the language. One student in particular, Faith Ministry’s cook and caretaker Marisela, is picking up the language fast—largely due to her regular attendance and diligent studying. On one occasion, Marisela was found in the kitchen rewriting and organizing her notes from the previous class. She reported that she uses her “free time” to study and that her determination to learn English stems from a desire to converse with the American teams. Although it is very possible to form strong and lasting friendships here in Reynosa with or without a mutual language, it’s true that deeper conversations could be had—with topics other than the spiciness of a salsa or the position of a block. The willingness and excitement to learn, as displayed by Marisela and the rest of Lizzie’s students, could turn these potential conversations into reality.

After Lizzy’s time here this summer, she will return home and begin to finalize her project. Colleen Cook, the communications coordinator at Faith Ministry, reveals that Lizzy’s curriculum will be offered as an option to future teams and volunteers that may want to teach English in addition to (or instead of) construction work. During the weeks when a team is not available to teach, the curriculum can also be utilized by the English-speaking staff here at Faith Ministry.

Due to the dedication of Lizzy, her students and the staff of Faith Ministry, the local volunteers here in Reynosa may soon be saying “goodbye” to the language barrier once and for all.

Written by Emily Jones of Trinity Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana

Posted in Reflections