Over 95 languages are spoken in Idaho, with 153,000 residents using a primary language other than English in their household, according to the the Idaho Department of Labor.
Language barriers in the work place often create difficulties for an individual to enter the economy, leading to a slower growth in the labor force, according to the IDL.
For Brian McDermott, a visiting faculty member in the Languages and International Studies Department, creating an opportunity for non-native English speakers to learn English was a way he could help others learn English. McDermott, along with help from others, created free English classes for members of the community.
McDermott said the classes provide a semi-formal way for those who want to learn English as a second language. He said they spend the first hour of the classes with direct tutoring from mentors, many of whom are BYU-Idaho students. Students and mentors then spend an hour after tutoring doing activities with the group to practice their English skills in a more real-world setting.
“Learning a language is intimidating, and that is the problem I have felt with formal classes,” said Melodee Mueller, who assists McDermott with the ESL classes and is an adjunct faculty member in the Languages and International Studies Department. “The more we can make it a friendly atmosphere is (sic) better.”
She said she also hopes those who volunteer as English teachers and tutors look beyond providing service and see an opportunity to make new friends and a chance to learn about other people and their cultures.
McDermott and Mueller have similar backgrounds in helping refugees. Both found a love for learning about others and their lives no matter their background while befriending refugees.
McDermott said being on campus doesn’t give students the full perspective of what life is like in the rest of the community.
“I’m from Rigby, and there is a huge Hispanic community that want to learn English, that want to be part of the society,” McDermott said.
He said the Rexburg ESL societies’ free English courses welcome those in the community who feel like outsiders because they don’t speak English. He sais this is a way to play a part in offering their knowledge of English because they care and want everyone to feel included in the community.
Mueller said mentors don’t need to have an ESL degree or certificate to participate in teaching others English. She said it takes a genuine care for others and an interest in their lives, culture and language.
Alex Gomez, a mentor in the program and a sophomore studying political science, said he went to McDermott when he noticed there was a large Hispanic population who didn’t speak English and hoped there was a way he could help. It was around the same time that McDermott and Mueller organized the community to come together and learn English.
He said it takes someone with patience and a willingness to help to be a good mentor to those coming to the classes.
The Rexburg ESL Society meets every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Madison County Senior Citizens Center located at 40 S. 2nd W. next to Soda Vine.
McDermott said anyone 18 and older is welcome to attend no matter their language level and experience teaching. He encourages those in the community wanting to learn English to come to the classes.