Can you help my mother-in-law learn English (but not too much)?
October 3, 2010 12:27 AM   Subscribe

Do you know of any programs to help an elderly Chinese and Vietnamese speaker learn English?

My wife's mother is elderly and does not speak English, but wants to learn (so I've been told, since I don't understand a word she says). She speaks Cantonese and Vietnamese, but no English. I speak as much Chinese and Vietnamese as she does English.

My wife would love to be able to find a program to help her mother learn English. There are many programs to help English speakers learn other languages, and we know there are many, many more programs to help learn English. Unfortunately, we have no idea where to look and what our options are.

On top of that, she's not young--almost 80. If it involves sitting in front of a computer, reading lessons, worksheets, or any sort of computer skills, she won't be interested.

It doesn't have to make her fluent. In fact, it doesn't even have to work very well. I'm sure that one of the major reasons I get along with my mother-in-law is because of the language barrier, but it'll give her something to stimulate her mind and maybe help her pick up a few words.
posted by rybreadmed to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of DVDs and videos of English language TV shows and movies with Chinese or Vietnamese subtitles. Next to studying in a course or using language media methods and a teacher in an immersion program, few things work as well as a good addictive soap opera or hospital drama with subtitles...
posted by zaelic at 5:44 AM on October 3, 2010

Best answer: Pimsleur does a English for Cantonese Speakers course. I've done some of their others, and they're great. Fully audio, and you can go at your own pace. Pricey, though you can often get them from libraries.
posted by kjs4 at 7:06 AM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where are you located?

Here in Toronto, I'd suggest she contact either a Cantonese or Vietnamese church or a library branch in a Cantonese or Vietnamese area -- both of those are likely to offer ESL programs, and have language specific support for speakers of her existing languages.

The Y, the school board's continuing education program, cultural societies and immigrant resource centers also offer ESL lessons. Some of them are group situations, some one on one tutoring.

Our Library also offers a wide variety of ESL lessons in books or on CD/tape, including ones specifically targeted at Cantonese and Vietnamese speakers. Even if she doesn't want to go to the library for classes or tutoring, her local library may be an awesome resources for material for her to study.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:09 AM on October 3, 2010

I sort of think subtitled dramas are a waste of time, unless the native and target languages are in the same family, or there's substantial linguistic competence already. None of which are the case here.

But in medium and large Canadian/American cities, there are almost always free ESL classes available to non-citizens. Generally these classes are run by non-profit organizations and taught by experienced ESL teachers. Since there's no one organization--here in Vancouver Mosaic is the big one; in my hometown, it's called Global Gathering--it's tough to advise you without knowing which city you're in, but assuming you're in a city with an immigrant population, you might try Googling for them, or going down to your local library or YWCA. Usually they can point you in the right direction.
posted by smorange at 8:49 AM on October 3, 2010

Response by poster: We're in Los Angeles. She's in the San Gabriel Valley. Obviously, I didn't think of checking the library near her. She won't be interested in going to any classes--maybe a one-on-one thing.
posted by rybreadmed at 10:17 AM on October 3, 2010

Response by poster: That Pimsleur program seems to be an excellent recommendation, and might be just what we're looking for. I found their Quick & Simple Cantonese ESL program for only $20 online; I imagine the library will have it, too. But it seems that she'd be able to do something like that without getting overwhelmed.

Thanks for the advice.
posted by rybreadmed at 10:24 AM on October 3, 2010

If she's not interested in classes or computer-based courses, then it seems like the only option is hiring a tutor. You could probably find a reasonably cheap one in the form of a student studying to be an ESL teacher. Check your local colleges, universities and/or community colleges.
posted by smirkette at 11:09 AM on October 3, 2010

Two of my friends (who are native speakers) volunteer for a program that teaches English skills to elderly Chinese speakers. It's a group thing (meets somewhere in Chinatown here in Chicago), but their program probably also offers one-on-one tutoring if it needs to be arranged. If she's anti-group for mobility reasons, that's one thing, but their group has a lot of fun. Yesterday, for instance, my friends led them on tour of downtown.

LA likely also has services like this. You can call the library, as mentioned above, or the Chinatown Senior Citizen Service (213-680-9739) and see if they have any suggestions.
posted by phunniemee at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2010

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