New experiential language school helps immigrants connect to community while improving English.
PelotonPosts is a monthly interview with a member of PelotonLabs, a co-working community in Portland’s West End. This month, Peloton’s founder Liz Trice caught up with Pamela Kasabian, founder of the English Experience Language School, a small private language school with experiential language approach based out of PelotonLabs.
Liz: What made you want to go into business for yourself?
Pamela: I’ve been teaching English for twenty years – at Portland Adult Education, Boston Academy of Language, Center for Workplace Learning, USM and Southern Maine Community College. I saw a need for classes for people who want to improve their English skills in a more personalized way. When I was in grad school I got excited about teaching in small group environments where we use student’s existing knowledge instead of a fixed curriculum. My students will be people who want to improve English skills within a dynamic community of learners. Each student brings their knowledge and interests to share, which makes a very rich experience for everyone.
Liz: You’re starting a new series of classes in January?
Pamela: There are two different types of classes: Experiential and Project-Based Writing. In the experiential class groups of students have shared experiences in the community that we then use as content in class. In Project-Based Writing, students choose a writing project that’s important to them: resumes, college essays, telling personal stories, or technical writing. I also recruit native English speakers to volunteer to meet individually with people and to be guest speakers. Classes start January 17th, and cost $350 to $675. Classes meet two to three times per week for six weeks.
Liz: Tell me what an experiential language class looks like.
Pamela: We usually do two field trips in a six-week course. In one class we had eight people from different countries walk through the Old Port together for an afternoon. Everyone chatted about what was interesting to them. A Somali woman was curious about local fashion because she had a clothing company in her home country. A young man from Iraq was an amateur racecar driver interested in cars. And one student was asked for directions by a passer-by. This made for rich conversation while walking, and students could be more comfortable in situations that might make them nervous alone.
When we got back to the classroom we retold our experiences, both verbally and in writing. I recorded the conversation, transcribed it and analyzed it for pronunciation and grammar errors. In the following weeks we corrected the transcripts together and used it for writing and reading assignments based on the interests of the students.
Liz: A lot of people are curious about the roles that immigrants will play in our community.
Pamela: We’re all immigrants. My vision is that my school will become a place where it’s not just immigrants learning English. My dream is to have a place where people (native English and non-native English speakers) can go to celebrate differences and learn from each other, a reciprocal learning and cultural exchange for everyone.