English is the international language of opportunity. For 25 years, Global Volunteers have helped Italian students strengthen their conversational English skills. Volunteer Team Leader Phyllis Thompson, who has served on 42 programs since 2003, reflects on her first service program in Italy and cites students’ gratitude for volunteers’ significant contributions to their English language learning.
By Phyllis Thompson, alumni volunteer and Volunteer Team Leader
Interested to know why teaching conversational English as a volunteer is important?
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For the past 17 years, I have been involved in providing service and leadership for many countries in the Global Volunteers international network. From the Far East to the Americas, these experiences have left me with an indelible impression of the value and necessity of conversational English skills.
My first encounter occurred in a hot, humid, and fun-filled classroom in Ostuni, Italy in the summer of 2003 with four lively Italian children – Marco, Fausto, Maria, and Angela. Little did I know, these conversational English lessons in a summer camp environment would mold and fill my newfound retirement years with such fulfillment and pleasure. I still keep in contact with one of the spirited group, Fausto. He located me through Facebook some 15 years later and asked, “Are you my teacher who taught me English and drew and outlined me on the floor to learn the body parts?” I was so thrilled to hear from him! Subsequently, I followed his progress through his university years, first at the University of Nottingham, when he graduated with a BSc and then at the London School of Economics and Political Science where he recently earned a MSc. His English is impeccable and although I cannot take the credit, I can still be so proud to have been his first conversational English teacher. How diligently my four lively Ostuni children struggled through the daily card game of Go Fish – always saying “feesh”, while I was constantly gently reminding them, “fish”.
“For the past 17 years, I have been involved in providing service and leadership for many countries in the Global Volunteers international network. From the Far East to the Americas, these experiences have left me with an indelible impression of the value and necessity of English language speaking skills.”– Phyllis Thompson
As my experience and time with these remarkable children grew, I became more and more aware of the importance of my small yet meaningful contribution of sharing my language with the world. Two weeks is a very short time, but it was enough time for me to realize I was becoming a part of an organization that contributes significantly to building and supporting a framework for instilling the importance of speaking English throughout the world.
Importance of English in Today’s World
The importance of the English language cannot be overemphasized in today’s world. From continent to continent, the English language is the most used language in the world. Its value cannot be exaggerated. English is the mandated language for transportation and the language of international business. It also serves as a unifying factor for people worldwide, providing access to a variety of information over the internet. Further, the media industry reaches people all over the world through print and broadcast, using English as “the” preferred language. For all of these reasons and more, teaching English in Italy is crucially important to students as it gives them access to native speakers.
“Two weeks is a very short time, but it was enough time for me to realize I was becoming a part of an organization that contributes significantly to building and supporting a framework for instilling the importance of speaking English throughout the world.”– Phyllis Thompson
YES, the English language plays an important role in our lives and the nations Global Volunteers serves. So, one cannot wonder why teaching English is a focus in over 85% of Global Volunteers service programs. Whether it be through didactic or conversational lessons, the need for this valuable service cannot be denied. Yes, the Global Volunteers dedication to and realization of the value of English instruction makes communicating among all countries across the globe a most beneficial service.
“English is the mandated language for transportation and the language of international business. It also serves as a unifying factor for people worldwide, providing access to a variety of information over the internet.”– Phyllis Thompson
Why does Global Volunteers offer English lessons?
Because the organization is asked to! Global Volunteers serves by “invitation only.” Once a request is received for service, a very thorough screening process to determine a sponsor’s needs is conducted. Once both entities agree, Global Volunteers serves ‘mano a mano’ – hand in hand – with local people providing only those services requested, whenever possible. English lessons and tutoring always seem to be of great importance in the sponsor’s request for service. From preschool through high school, even in university settings, children, youth, and young adults sit with volunteers to practice and pronounce the English language. Local adults have also benefited from English lessons. Every walk of life is served. From the fisherman, farmers, local shopkeepers, physicians, nurses, lawyers, and teachers to the housewives, families, and friends – all sit at the Global Volunteers table to practice speaking English. Moreover, the English lessons provide a significant opportunity for sharing one’s cultures, customs, hopes, and dreams.
Where does Global Volunteers teach conversational English?
From east to west and north to south – from all corners of the globe! Many countries worldwide and even in the United States, have requested English language services as an important requisite for their growth and development. Whether it be in a formalized classroom setting or in the shade of a tree, groups congregate for interesting lessons and conversations. Many of the Global Volunteers sites, such as China, Greece, Italy, Poland, and Portugal, concentrate solely on English instruction. Other countries and United States locations use English lessons to complement a variety of other services offerings such as child and senior care, gardening, and manual labor and painting projects.
Are outcomes realistic?
One might question, “Are the Global Volunteers English instruction outcomes sound and realistic?” If one considers a benchmark for success, the smiling faces and millions of thank yous, well then YES. Also, judging from the over 30 years of continuing operation, well, once again, a resounding YES. From the volunteers’ perspective, the English program has brought back repeated involvement from volunteers, who constantly cite high levels of satisfaction. An echoing refrain often heard is, “I am taking back too much, much more than I have given.”
As for me, I once asked a fellow team leader, “How long do you think we can continue doing this? His response, “Until they stop asking us!” With this, I am in full accord.
YES! Teaching Conversational English Is Important!
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