Breaking Language Barrier: Ms. Tew’s New Tutoring Program

Dollar Zhu, Editor-in-Chief

“What does this email mean?”

“It means you have to go to soccer practice after school and see Mr. Hensley. So you should reply, ‘I will see you in practice.’ P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E.”

This is a conversation I overheard between Residential Assistance Lucy Tew and seventh grader Leo Li. It is Li’s first year as a middle schooler at MacDuffie who is new to learning English, and Tew has been designated by administration to tutor him in English and help him break this language barrier.

The tutoring program is specifically designed to accommodate Li’s needs. When he was first accepted into MacDuffie, administration acknowledged Li’s difficulties in English and began the program to support his language development.

Currently, Tew meets Li twelve blocks every week in the middle school locker area. They work on basic vocabulary, watch English movies, and discuss everyday topics. “As an ELL student, the biggest thing you need to overcome is to use your new language skills, so that’s what he’s doing,” Tew says.

According to Tew, having conversations in English is the most effective method of improving Li’s language skills. To achieve this goal, the program extends outside the twelve blocks of tutoring. Li was arranged to live with a Russian roommate, whom he speaks English with daily. He also goes to classes with other middle schoolers who are familiar with the language, so he can immerse himself in an English education.

The program is also an opportunity for Tew to strengthen her Chinese. Tew describes, “I am adding onto my own Chinese vocabulary because I’ll ask him the question in Chinese, and I’ll repeat it in English, and I’ll ask him to answer me in Chinese, and hopefully he will do his best in answering me in English. It’s a lot of back and forth.”

MacDuffie embraces diversity, but language barriers can create obstacles in integrating a diverse community. Although we have the ELL department to facilitate language-learning for international students, additional support is often necessary for students who are new to learning English. This tutoring program targeting Li could be a start of the solution to this issue; as Li reflects, “It helped me a lot.”