Coffee Talk & Building Community

Posted on Nov 12, 2018

What happens when you bring together 80 adult language learners, hailing from 32 countries, to share food, culture, and conversation? In short – the magic of community. At least, so say the Adult Education Instructors who work with our Rock Valley College English language learners (ELL) attending classes at RVC’s Stenstrom Center for Career Education.

RVC’s ELL students come from all corners of the globe, and are together adapting to a new country and culture. Some students, when asked from which country they’re from, say “Africa,” violence and unrest having jostled them to the point of having no clear sense of a place to call “home.”

The ELL instructors teaching at Stenstrom aim to help their students improve their English skills and prepare for the next step in their lives, whether that’s to enroll in college, gain or move up in a career, or engage more effectively with the Rockford Community. It’s no small task to create effective language development activities for a single ELL class and level, and it’s an even greater undertaking to bring together multiple levels and help learners connect with one another.

Connectivity is a key to ensuring that language learning is meaningful, and bringing together multiple classes is exactly what the RVC ELL Instructors are doing. Every three weeks, the instructors assemble their students for “Coffee Talk,” a lively, productive event aimed to help them improve confidence and master critical language skills.

Coffee Talk challenges ESL students in a clever way. The Instructors seat students of different language levels together in the Stenstrom Student Commons, and the students enjoy conversation prompts, writing activities, language games, and of course plenty of snacks. Coffee Talk offers students the chance to speak English outside the confines of the classroom and exercise different language learning muscles, making meaningful the English they’ve practiced.

ELL Instructor Susan Cuevas has this to say about the outcomes Coffee Talk can deliver – “We’re hoping for great student retention. Coffee Talk gives our students something to look forward to and helps us build a community. It offers students the chance to interact with the instructors of other levels, provides a more loose time to practice conversation, and coaxes them to push past comfort zones.”

“What we end up with is fun, diversity, achievement, full bellies, and happy faces!”

The Stenstrom ELL students speak 25 languages, all counted, and some were fluent in three or four languages before learning English. During Coffee Talk, the Commons are a flurry of conversation and laughter, despite that the students’ English skills range from basic to advanced levels. The students are brave to speak because Coffee Talk provides a warm environment of friendship and community, perhaps providing the chance to put down some roots in a place that they now can call “home.”

Learn more about the ESL (English as a Second Language) Program at Rock Valley College.