U students help refugees, immigrants learn English

By Jaime Winston, Staff Writer

Andrew Burton said he uses more body language than speech to teach English to his class of refugees from Africa.

“I can only communicate to them with what they know,” Burton said. To do this, he points to objects when he speaks, makes drawings and reviews the alphabet often.

Burton, a U alumnus, has been teaching a biweekly class for the English Skills Learning Center of Salt Lake City for the past two months on Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Park Place Apartments in downtown Salt Lake City.

“It’s only two and a half hours out of my week,” Burton said. “I’m excited about it, and it is rewarding work.”

The center’s waiting list of about 50 refugees and immigrants is growing daily. Many volunteers are reaching the end of their six-month commitment to the program, said Cathy Barnhart, the center’s executive director. Some of the volunteers are students from the U.

Volunteer students teach people from all over the world, including immigrants from Latin America, Somalia, Burma, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nate Barusch, a senior in biology at the U, said he will start his volunteer work with immigrant parents at the end of this month.

Barusch said after he finishes training he will coordinate his school schedule with his students to set up class meeting times.

Holly Andrews, program manager for the center, trains volunteers to teach English. About 25 people are trained for the program each month for 12 hours. She said no foreign language skills are required and if teachers do know the native language of their students, they are asked not to use it.

“They end up interpreting a lot and the student never really gets to practice,” she said.

Andrews started volunteering for the center before she completed her master’s degree from the U in linguistics about five years ago.

“I feel so passionate about what I do because I feel like we make an impact,” Andrews said. “We’re reaching out in so many directions and touching lives by teaching English.”

Evariste Kabura began taking the class a year ago because he had a limited knowledge of English. His parents came from Burundi and he was born at a refugee camp in Tanzania. After Kabura arrived in Utah with his parents and wife, he decided to sign up for the classes to improve his language skills.

A year after joining the class, Kabura is now the instructor for the center’s computer lab and an interpreter for Salt Lake School District.

“It helped me a lot,” Kabura said. “Back when I (was there), I spoke only a little bit of English.”

U students who want to volunteer for the center can contact the Bennion Community Service Center. Students could also receive credit for volunteering, depending on their department.

[email protected]