During his first year at Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, Jack Jin needed an electronic translator at all times.
Going from China to America, he didn’t know much English, but he had to have some way to communicate with the native speakers.
“Before, my English was bad. Everyone knows that,” he said, smiling. “When I came to this school, my English, oh man!”
At the beginning of this school year, Trinity began offering an English as a new language class, giving international students a chance to learn about the English language together.
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Being a part of the class has resulted in Jin rarely having to refer to his translator.
Michelle Bauman, the teacher of the new class, said she has noticed a big change from when she first met Jin. At that time, she was the admissions director and interviewed new students.
“At the beginning of the year, he was using his translator a lot more than he’s using it now — a lot more,” she said.
Jin, a sophomore, is proud of the improvements he has made.
“I feel like I can speak more if there’s no English speaker here,” he said. “This class is good for us to make us talk more.”
Jin and the six other international students in the class now feel more comfortable at school, whether they are in Bauman’s class or others.
“The key is that in a regular English-speaking class, maybe an international student won’t feel as comfortable speaking up or asking questions or practicing their English. In here, there’s no other option,” Bauman said.
“You have to practice your English. You can’t hide in here,” she said, smiling.
The school also started a Culture Club, which has brought the international and native speakers together to share each other’s culture. The club has more than 50 students meeting one night a month to participate in a variety of activities.
The English as a new language class meets for 45 minutes every school day during sixth period. As long as English is not their native language, students can enroll in the class.
The class has focused on an idiom of the week and a grammar lesson of the week along with doing dialogues, writing papers and reading books and literature.
Early on, Bauman said she realized the students didn’t have the foundational pieces of the language to understand and make a higher-level connection.
“I used a simile one time and said, ‘Your airplane looks like a circus airplane,'” she said of a project that went along with a lesson. “They didn’t know what a circus was, so I stopped and talked about what it was. None of them had experienced one before. It has put a new twist on learning.”
Jin is one of four students from China. The others are senior Natalia Gegen, freshman Jerry Jiang and junior Xinyi Wan.
Senior Vy Nguyen is from Vietnam, while junior Luis Enrique “Ricky” Castro and freshman Alexis Maldonado are from Puerto Rico.
This is Gegen’s second year at the school. Last year, she said there weren’t many other international students, so it was challenging to interact with the native speakers because they all knew each other.
“I didn’t know what was going on when I was talking to them,” she said. “I think I speak very slow because I need to rephrase a lot of the words. You’re thinking Chinese first, then translating them to English.”
In Bauman’s class, though, she fits right in.
“We can share things that happen at home or share our thoughts because we’re all international students, so sometimes, we have the same point of view of some different things,” she said.
Gegen said doing presentations and speaking in Bauman’s class have helped her in other classes.
“I thought my English was better than the others, but when I came to this class, I found that I still have a lot to learn, like basic things with grammar,” she said.
Jiang and Wan both stay with a host family in Bedford.
Jiang also is taking Spanish at Trinity this year, so he’s learning two new languages at once.
“I like to learn languages,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s fun to just translate from different languages and talk to many people, not just Americans, but you can make some jokes with the students from Puerto Rico.”
This is Wan’s second year at Trinity. He said he looks forward to Bauman’s class every day.
“We have more opportunities here speaking with others, not with native speakers,” he said. “It lets me feel more comfortable to talk with others in this class.”
Maldonado is in his first year at Trinity, and Castro has only been here since November after he left his home country after Hurricane Maria.
Castro started in a regular English class, but he said he wasn’t on the same level as other students.
Once he found out about Bauman’s class, he switched to it.
“I really wanted to come because they said, ‘We all don’t really know perfect English,'” he said. “I just feel more comfortable if I speak English with people that are at the same level as me.”
Nguyen said she’s glad to have the opportunity to take the class in her last year at Trinity.
She said the biggest thing she has learned is vocabulary.
“That helps me know more about vocab, and it’s easier to speak, so I can use a different word when I’m speaking,” she said.
Nguyen also has liked being involved in the Culture Club. Meetings have included activities based on a certain culture along with American culture.
One time, they learned about the Lunar New Year and then ate at Five Guys and went bowling. During another meeting, they ate at a Vietnamese restaurant and went ice skating. Another time, they learned how to use chopsticks before going to a Chinese restaurant.
“It has been a big hit,” Bauman said of the club. “A lot of students have enjoyed getting to know each other. We’ve done a lot of different activities.”
The international students also learn about American holidays. A few weeks before Halloween, they went to Oktoberfest. Around Thanksgiving, they ate a traditional meal. For Valentine’s Day, they made cards. Then for Easter, they colored eggs.
Bauman said the class and club have several benefits.
“First of all, it has given us an opportunity to really make our international students part of our student body in the sense that we get to talk about things that maybe our regular students take for granted,” she said.
For instance, when the school had activities for homecoming week, the international students weren’t familiar with that.
The new offerings also let the students know their culture is valuable and they can share it with others, Bauman said.
“I think that’s really important, so I give them the opportunity to teach me things,” she said. “They have left their homes and come to a new country to learn something that they really value, and I think this class has also given them the opportunity to see that they have something to teach others, as well.”
They have been able to share their faith, too.
“Some of the students in here are Christian. Some are not,” Bauman said. “Most of the time, I pray. (Recently) I started to have students in here volunteer to pray, which for a Christian educator, that is very cool.”
As a teacher, Bauman said the class and club have been very rewarding.
“I love other cultures, and I have had a chance to learn about their cultures and to get to know them, and it has been very refreshing,” she said. “In general, most of my students want to learn English, but these seven really want to learn English. We’ve really created a family that they can joke around, and they like each other and enjoy coming to class.”