Nature Nonpareil

Fervent orange

Sensuous sapphire

Passionate purples

Reds on fire

Beguiling beiges

Spirited yellows

Magnificent magentas

Ardent amber

Mirror lakes

Mountains hallowed

Sands that sparkle and shine

Fragrant forests of pine

Blossoms bewitching, sublime

Luxuriant, verdant meadows

Sunsets so mellow

Soaring precipices

Abiding seas

Amaranthine valleys

Sparkling streams

Nature the conjurer

Nonpareil, supreme
















Eye on ESL


English as a Second Language instructor, ESL/ESOL tutor, transitional bilingual educator: different titles,  much the same job descriptions. ELL (English Language Learner), NES (Non-English Speaker), LES (Limited English Speaker): varying classifications, similar needs.

My Journey as an ESL/ELL Instructor:

I have taught English to children (ELLs) for more than fourteen years now, as well as to adults (NES/LES) whose first language is not English. I embarked upon my ESL-teaching career by taking up a position for part-time faculty advertised in the  classifieds section of the local newspaper. That is how I started teaching English communication at a small language learning center in Pune, India.  There,  I had the opportunity to teach English to not just Indians, but also to students who were living in India temporarily.  Pune is a largish city in Western India, and is well-known for its rich history, patronage of the theater and performing arts, and for its institutes of higher education.  In fact, it is also referred to as “the Oxford of the East”. Students come to Pune from countries like South Korea, the Middle East, and from African countries like Nigeria and Sudan.


ESL in the United States:

Here in the United States I get to work with an even wider diaspora — adult learners of English of Japanese, Korean, Russian, Czech, Polish, Chinese, and Brazilian heritage.  The United States  has always been the land of immigrants; a country built by people who have traveled from afar in search of religious or/and political freedom,  and of course, economic  opportunity.

Public School ELL Programs:

Immigrants typically enroll their children in public schools, where they are either placed into classes where all the kids are English Language Learners or ELLs, or they are pulled out of class for small-group instruction.  Unfamiliar with the language, these students, understandably, need that extra attention in order to catch up with their peers. In fact, English Language Learners are estimated to be the fastest-growing student demographic in US schools. Therefore, the need for  ESL/ELL teachers,  who are hired by schools specifically to provide assistance to these students.  Typically, they work one-on-one or in small groups to impart English skills – reading and writing, speaking, listening, and vocabulary.

math tutoring

one-on-one and small-group learning yields quicker progress


Teaching English to Adults

In my work with adult learners of English, I have discovered that every one of my students has a story to tell. As we work our way through TOEFL or IELTS exercises, Nursing Exam vocabulary and reading comprehension, or dental school application essays,  I am filled with admiration for these brave, ambitious, and hard-working entrants into the US . In their twenties, thirties, forties, and even fifties, immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe need to fulfil the educational requirements of their adopted country, and for this they often enroll in courses  that they have already completed in the countries of their origin. But now,  they must become students once more. They tackle college-level courses taught in English,  even before they have become proficient in the language! Undaunted, they sign up to start life afresh in a land whose lingua franca is so unfamiliar.   Yet, they soldier on,  spending time, energy, and last but definitely not least, the money, on acquiring the educational credentials they need in order to embark on careers here. They know all too well that without knowing English, they won’t have even a fighting chance of success. For, non-English speakers have a difficult time landing jobs. And, even if they are hired, they are often paid lower wages for the same work than an employee who is an English-speaker. I too came to America as an immigrant.

For me, English and Hindi were both first languages. I completed pre-K through 12,  and my Bachelors’ Degree, from English-medium schools (where the primary language of instruction is English). Also, both English and Hindi were spoken by everyone at home, i.e.parents and grandparents, my two younger sisters, household help, and visitors. So, you could say that we grew up bilingual in the real sense of the term, with equal, native-like fluency in two languages. Therefore, while I have my typical immigrant grouses –  homesickness, having to redo parts of my education, and a general sense of uprootedness, I am lucky that I was spared the frustration of not being able to communicate in the language of my adopted country. (If we had moved to say, Japan, I would have been in the same boat as my ESL students.)

Myriad Challenges:

So, from my perspective, their task appears rather arduous; an uphill journey. For, when you migrate to a foreign land,  you know you have to make it, and fast. You have neither the luxury of time, nor money to squander. Samuel Smiles, often credited  as the author of the world’s first self-help book titled, you guessed it, Self-Help, has said:  The battle of life is, in most cases, fought uphill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honor. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved. And so, in the same vein, they soldier on. They pass their TOEFLs, get through professional exams, and earn their college degrees.

But It’s All worth it:

I derive immense satisfaction from the fact that I am able to assist my students in becoming versed in English.  And invariably, as their grasp over the language improves, their self-confidence increases. Many a time, I find myself egging on a distraught student,  assuring him that victory will be his; while inside, I feel apprehensive. I know it’s not that easy to learn a new language, especially in adulthood.  But, each time, my pupils manage to surprise me with their perseverance.  I imbibe so much as a result of my interactions with my students.

A Few Laughs Too!

Mind you, it’s not all work and drudgery, either. There is many a moment of unintentional merriment — for instance, I once asked my student, a well-mannered soft-spoken executive from Germany, who had been sent by his company’s Illinois office for the sole purpose of polishing his English, “How did you get to the library today? Did your colleague drop you in his car?” And he replied, in all seriousness, “No, I came by footsteps.” It was hard for me to keep a straight face as I corrected him,  “Albert, you don’t say that you came by footsteps, you say that you came on foot.” 

No,You Don’t Get to Look Down the Bridge of Your Nose!

And that brings us to an important point: when teaching ESL in an adult classroom, make sure that you don’t patronize. Remember, your adult students have plenty of life experience – personal, educational, and professional. They are only deficient in English, not in knowledge or experience. In fact, the teacher can reference her students’ professional background when lesson planning, especially for Business English sessions.

To Wrap Up:

Admitted, an ESL teacher faces myriad challenges and roadblocks when helping her pupils acquire English skills; but, as educators, we need to be mindful of the fact that the person who is in our classroom trusts us, and, to an extent, depends on us to lead them to their goals. Therefore, never make fun of your students, be generous with praise (for who doesn’t like to be appreciated?)be culturally sensitive, and look at things from their perspective.


Transitional Bilingual ESL

Having started  a new position in a Middle School fairly recently, I found the routine — waking up at 6:15 am, showering , getting the boys ready for school, and driving to work around 15 minutes away — to be quite taxing, both physically and mentally. As a bilingual teaching aide, I wouldn’t say that my work profile is one where there is pressure, or the burden of being accountable to anyone and everyone. But, since I have been primarily hired to assist two boys –brothers– who have very limited knowledge of English, with all their schoolwork, I wouldn’t say that it’s a walk in the park, either.

For one, I need to go to the boys’ classes with them. And everyday, I alternate between sixth grade and eighth grade classes, as one brother started in the sixth grade this Fall, and the other, in eighth. Now this entails more than just  a little walking. I don’t believe in using step counting wristbands or apps, but I am sure that I must be trotting up more than six or seven thousand steps during school hours. I tried doing it in heels, and boy, was it a pain (pun intended)! I was massaging my aching feet for a full hour once I got home. So, through dint of sheer agony, I have learned to dress comfortably for work, and to always wear sensible shoes. Fashion and stilettos be damned.

Furthermore, I have taught myself to regulate my food intake. No intermittent snacking , no matter how peckish one might be feeling. For, we have precisely two minutes transition time between periods, and if your stomach is growling, you just have to ignore it and keep going until lunch. And, I am well on my way to the Kegel’s Hall of Fame for Women. I can now constrict my, ahem,  *****al muscles rather well, and hold it in for at least an hour after the urge to go first enters my head.

Meditation is a skill I have yet to learn, but I know how to stay focused and on-task for an entire forty-minute school period. And, I am now well-versed in Hammurabi’s Code. In fact, I am even fascinated with the Babylonians. They were pretty cool people, what with inventing the Cuneiform script and all.

Also, with each passing day, I find myself becoming more adept at solving  word problems using tape diagrams, double number lines, and tables. In India, they never really taught us Math concepts by utilizing visual methods like tables and number lines. It is actually quite an effective way to learn about fractions, ratios, and per cents.

In science class, I am helping my charges learn about force and velocity, mass, and potential energy. I am learning about the connection between magnetic fields and potential energy. I think I am lucky to be getting exposed to concepts beyond the usual kinetic energy, potential energy, and velocity.

Last but not least, I even accompany my sixth grader to his fifth period Art class. You may be wondering as to why a student would need bilingual support in a sixth grade art class. In fact,  I need to translate quite a bit for him, making sure he understands the art teacher’s instructions. A couple of times I was in the bathroom right at the beginning of class (I hadn’t mastered my Kegel’s by then),  and my student, unable to catch most of what the teacher was saying,  ended up drawing the wrong thing the wrong way and had to start over.  Needless to mention, the art teacher was not pleased. So, now I make sure that I am never late to Art, and translate the teacher’s expectations to my student in detail.

In this account, I have not included what I do with my eighth grader during his Health class, or how I help the boys complete their language arts assignments. But I am sure that you, the reader has been able to get a pretty good sense of what I do in my capacity as a Bilingual Aide.

It is physically tiring, and I need at least an hour of downtime once I get back home at around 3:15. Sometimes, I also feel depleted of mental energy, especially if, despite my best efforts at doing so, my students don’t seem to be motivated to accomplish over and above the bare minimum required for them to stay afloat. In these moments, I remind myself that this isn’t easy for them, either. Moving halfway across the earth, having to negotiate a new world in an unfamiliar language can be nothing but overwhelming. And, if we, them and I, keep working at it, we will get there.



Venus Rings

In my thirty-fifth year of life (give or take a couple), I feel happy that I have a part-time occupation that I love. I am a mom to two boisterous boys,  a wife, and have many roles to fulfil – teacher, chauffeur, chef, appointment scheduler, seasonally active vegetable gardener, etc. As I see myself now, striding on what is supposed to be the wrong side of thirty, I observe so many changes in myself. Little things, not prominent, really, until you pay close attention to them. Just like the horizontal neck rings I try to moisturize away every night. One night, I looked it up,  and discovered that these horizontal creases on the neck are also known as Venus rings. And that, like rings on a tree trunk, they signal the passing of time. What description would be more apt?

I was reading somewhere that people in their fifties and sixties tend to be calmer and more relaxed, since they have acquired an evolved world view, and are aware that there is no point in sweating the small stuff. Well, that is what I am trying to do, so that by the time I am out of my forties (not that I am wishing to fast-forward), I can sport that all-knowing, been-there-done-that expression, with a hint of a  smile playing on my lips. Then, I can dole out advice to harried twenty- and thirty-somethings, and assure them that everything will turn out just fine, and that these little daily annoyances will mean nothing  vis a vis the big picture.

Until then, I will just worry myself sick over why my kids keep falling sick, postpone  wisdom tooth surgery because I am afraid, and wonder why I wasn’t invited. I will berate myself every time we are five minutes late for swimming lessons,  or make it on time,  sans  the swimming trunks.  Once again, I will resolve  to lose five pounds by next week.

I will work, succeed, fail, persevere, struggle, and achieve. I will be exhilarated, dismayed, gratified, and annoyed, all with amazing regularity.However, I am not fickle or capricious. I just need to accrue more years, amass more experience, and my neck, well, it needs more rings.