Through free language learning programs, English At Large strives to increase opportunities for newcomers and build inclusive communities in Greater Boston. Stop & Shop supported this nonprofit organization through its Community Bag Program. Above, an English At Large Conversation Group takes a selfie!
Tell us about English at Large.
English At Large was founded in 1970 by a local woman who set out to train volunteers to help local people improve their reading and writing skills. As literacy rates improved, she realized that volunteers could be very effective tutors for newcomers who needed to learn English. That’s how English At Large was born.
We are an organization that engages, trains, and supports volunteers as tutors, teachers, and small group facilitators to help local immigrants and other newcomers in 24 communities learn English and gain the cultural knowledge they need to achieve their life goals. Our programs include One-to-One Tutoring, Conversation Groups, Beginner English Classes, and the Career Access Lab. These programs are offered free of charge and serve more than 300 adult learners each year.
What services do you provide to the community?
In keeping with our philosophy of meeting each learner where they are in their immigration journey, we offer a range of free programs for learners of all levels.
Our One-to-One Tutoring program is for adult learners who cannot attend a classroom program. They receive one year of tutoring through two-hour weekly sessions.
Conversation Groups are for adult learners who speak English at an intermediate level and need to practice their speaking and listening skills while meeting other learners in their communities.
Beginner English is a classroom program for adult learners who speak little to no English. It is a curriculum-based program that offers a traditional school year schedule. We currently offer Beginner English in Medford and Acton.
Our Career Access Lab helps learners with professional career goals navigate a U.S. job search, by teaching job search skills. Many of the learners we serve have professional credentials or degrees earned in their home country but are not familiar with many aspects of a job search, such as resumes, interviews and networking. The Career Access Lab helps them build these skills and gives them the confidence they need to find a job that matches their skills and professional potential.
All of our programs are delivered by volunteers who are trained and supported by English At Large. Services are delivered in the community where learners live and work, through our partnerships with local public libraries and other service organizations.
What sets English at Large apart from other nonprofits in your community?
There are three key things that make our organization unique. First, we serve a large suburban area where there are very few free opportunities for learners at any level to learn English. Our free programs give learners access to classes, tutoring and other services that wouldn’t otherwise be available or affordable.
Second, most classroom programs use a set curriculum, whereas our philosophy is to meet each learner where they are in both their language journey and their immigrant journey. We emphasize personalized instruction that has an immediate impact on their lives: practical instruction that they can walk out the door with and use the very next day. For example, in their weekly tutoring session, a tutor might work with their learner to practice functional language to improve workplace communication, or to expand their cultural knowledge to help them better navigate within their communities. Frequently, instruction focuses on learning and practicing language for communicating with teachers and pediatricians, so that learners can more confidently advocate for their families.
Finally, it’s important for us to offer a meaningful and fulfilling volunteer experience, as a significant number of our volunteers stay with our organization for many years. We provide initial and ongoing training for every volunteer position and offer frequent professional development and networking opportunities. We support and encourage volunteers who are ready to try a different role. The work our volunteers do is vital to our mission, and we want to ensure that they have a highly positive experience with English At Large.
Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.
I started tutoring after my training in March of last year, and I am currently working with my second learner. He is a gentleman from Venezuela who immigrated with his wife in 2017. He has four adult children who live here, and both he and his wife were professional educators in Venezuela. His wife was also a graduate of English At Large, and seeing how successful it was for her was one of the reasons he wanted to join our program.
He had two primary learning goals; first, he wanted to improve his conversational English, so that he could interact more easily and effectively with his coworkers. (He also thought that his grandchildren might stop teasing him about his English.) His second goal, importantly, was to become a US citizen, so our initial focus was on strengthening the skills he would need to pass his citizenship interview.
He recently passed the Citizenship Exam, and is now a citizen, as is his wife. After this achievement, we spent more time working on improving aspects of his conversational English. Since starting his tutoring in June, he told me he feels more confident speaking at work. He is outgoing and is not afraid to try speaking English with most people. Overall, he seems very pleased with the way things have been going, and frankly, I’m having a lot of fun with it.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
One of the things we are most proud of is what we’re able to achieve with a very small staff and limited resources. Our greatest assets are our volunteers, and our partnerships with area libraries. These assets allow us to deliver free programs in 24 communities and a ladder of learning for English learners. Learners in our programs can learn basic survival English skills in a classroom, continue with individualized tutoring, and improve their fluency through conversation groups. This ladder of learning provides opportunities in an underserved geographic area to learners of all levels.
What do you want people to know about English At Large?
At English At Large, we feel that language learning is the most important key for newcomers to fully participate in their communities. Even though English instruction is at the core of our services, our ultimate mission is to build stronger and more inclusive communities.
How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program?
Any funds we receive through the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program will be directed back into our programs, specifically to support the training and professional development of our volunteers and staff. We serve a very diverse pool of adult learners, due to our wide geographic reach, and we are seeing more low-level speakers with varied learning needs. Investing in the ongoing training and professional development of our staff and volunteers helps to ensure that our programs continue to be high-quality, relevant, and impactful for the learners we serve.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
We are a small organization, so donations such as this one from the Community Bag Program are very impactful. This program also helps to increase awareness for English At Large in the communities we serve. We’re so excited to partner with Stop & Shop through this program.
Director of Volunteer Engagement
Published February 8, 2024.