Beyond conversation; ESOL tears down language barriers

By Daniel Montaño, Managing Editor | Photo by Daniel Montaño

Beth Giebus-Chavez specializes in teaching academic english and writing to those whose first language is not english.
Beth Giebus-Chavez specializes in teaching academic english and writing to those whose first language is not

Every Tuesday and Thursday, a symphony of twangs, inflections and accents come together in harmony in Beth Giebus-Chavez’s classroom, she said.
Last Thursday, the long, thick syllables of an eastern Turkish accent could be heard explaining English verb tenses to a lush, vowel rich Jordonian cadence that sang understanding, which was interrupted by a quick-syllabled Mexican inflection asking for clarification.
Because she is the only full-time English for Speakers of Other Languages Instructor at CNM, those sounds are typical in any of Giebus-Chavez’s classrooms, she said.
“It’s great! It’s wonderful! It makes for a really interesting class when you have people from all over, and they’re all speaking English but learning about the world from each other,” she said.
ESOL courses differ from traditional English as a second language (ESL) classes because they focus on academic English, Giebus-Chavez said.
While ESL classes teach students general conversational English for day to day living, ESOL classes are traditional English classes, such as practical writing or essay writing, that are tailored to students for whom English is a second language, she said.
“We’re able to address the challenges that are unique, or the problems that are unique, to speakers of other languages,” she said.
Giebus-Chavez said that some students who already speak basic English can sometimes struggle in college level English courses, particularly in a classroom full of native English speakers.
ESOL classes help those students by delivering the same information in a clearer manner, ensuring that students do not get lost in the din of conversational American English, she said.
“When you’re with native speakers you get to hear all the nuances of American way, American culture, and there’s some validity to learning that way, but for others it can be overwhelming,” she said.
All ESOL classes count as regular English credit because the instructors are trained to teach traditional English classes and traditional ESL classes, Giebus-Chavez said.
Their special training allows these instructors to provide support for their students, and allow students to learn at a pace that might be easier when dealing with a second language, she said.
“In ESOL we’re trying to provide a safe atmosphere where if, for example, you’re mispronouncing a word, it’s OK, because we’re all kind of struggling with it,” she said.
Because all the students learn together at the same pace, and oftentimes take the same series of classes together, Giebus-Chavez said there is a community mentality among the students in ESOL classes.
The instructors help to foster this feeling by hosting book clubs, and throwing parties and events just for ESOL students, she said.
“We offer a lot of support to those students, because they’re new. They feel vulnerable sometimes. So we try to find ways to make it into a community, so they feel comfortable, and so they have people to come to if they have any questions,” she said.
Nasser Alhajali, Business major and one of Giebus-Chavez’s students, said he has issues trying to keep up with what native English speakers are saying because they speak too fast.
“When American speakers speak fast, I can’t catch anything. It’s hard to me,” Alhajali said.
But in his ESOL classes, Alhajali has been able to improve on his English speaking while also learning the basics of academic writing, he said.
“In this class, all the teachers speak slowly. They’re patient with students. It helps a lot,” he said.
Although Giebus-Chavez is the only full-time instructor who devotes all of her time to ESOL classes, there are two full-time English instructors and six part-time instructors who teach some ESOL classes, she said.
That is a total of 10 teachers, including the chair of the ESL/ESOL department, who can teach these classes to the 862 international students at CNM this semester, which may not sound like much, but many of those international students are not signing up for classes, she said.
“I think a lot of people aren’t aware of it. I think our only difficulty has been informing people about it,” she said.
ESOL classes are offered every semester, and are held mainly at Main and Montoya Campuses, she said.
Those interested in the program can feel free to email Giebus-Chavez anytime at with questions, she said.

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