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Volunteers Promote English Literacy

Growth in the number of non-English Speaking immigrants to the Jericho, Syosset and Woodbury communities means increasing activity for one of Long Island’s most immigrant-friendly organizations, Literacy Nassau.

For more than 45 years, Literacy Nassau, based in Freeport, has been helping native-born Americans and newcomers to America learn English and improve their fluency.

Every week, volunteer tutors—many retired school teachers—meet with their students, usually in local libraries, and help them master the nuances of the English language.

“We’re not out to turn our students into public speakers,” says Judy Resnick of Syosset, a trained speech pathologist who works with a Japanese-American mother of two in Syosset. “We just try to help them express themselves better and understand better so they can handle conversations with their children’s teachers, so they can ask directions, so they can talk to a doctor.”

Each week, Resnick meets her student in the Syosset Library and spends up to two hours reviewing sentences, role-playing communications situations, and reading and discussing articles in Easy English News, a newspaper specifically serving English language learners.

Jericho resident Elinor Haber, who also uses the Syosset Library for her weekly meetings, tutors a Syosset mother and grandmother, originally from Korea, who is a college graduate and a former business owner.

“Sook Hee speaks English,” says Haber, “but she needs to build up confidence in her fluency and she wants to learn correct pronunciation.”

A challenge common to English-language learners, Haber says, is that they revert to their native language whenever they can. “It provides a linguistic ‘safety net’ for them,” she says. “But it also prevents them from developing competency and confidence in their mastery of English language skills.”

With sharp increases in the population of non-English speaking families in Jericho, Syosset and Woodbury over the past decade, interest in English fluency is increasing, according to executives of the Literacy Nassau program. The program has 31 tutors in the local areas and 23 students, although Literacy Nassau executives say that a large number of tutors and students reside in nearby Plainview, and some of these may conduct sessions in Syosset or Jericho libraries as well.

When the program started, recalls Ocaria Silva, Literacy Specialist staff member with the program, most of the students were native-born Americans who needed help learning to read and write. Today, she observes, a majority of the students are immigrants who want to improve their basic English speaking and reading, and gain more understanding of the spoken language.

“They’re people who want to learn how to feel comfortable in a parent-teacher conference or discuss an appointment with a doctor,” Silva says. The program’s tutors concentrate on “situational English” that will enable students to engage in everyday activities where English is either required or useful to speak or write.

As interest in English language proficiency gains in popularity, Literacy Nassau is certain to continue providing a vital and much-appreciated service.

For further information about becoming a tutor or a student, contact Literacy Nassau at 516-867-3580; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .