English Idioms And The Power Of Rim Literacy Volunteers


Seed money, neck of the woods, and get on your soapbox, are all English idioms -- phrases that have a different meaning than the dictionary definitions of the individual words.

To someone from the Ukraine, China, Germany, Vietnam, India or South America a phrase such as "my dogs are tired," which translates as "my feet hurt," might as well be ancient Greek.


Abby Lee brings English idioms each week for Annmaree Thompson to help her understand.

Idiomatic expressions are certainly not the Queen's English.

That is where Rim Literacy Program (RLP) volunteers come in teaching English as a second language (ESL).

"It might surprise people that the students we are assisting have moved to Payson from all of the above countries," volunteer June Schranz said.

Abby Lee learned English as her second language in China. She has been meeting with volunteer Annmaree Thompson for the past 10 months to hone her skills.

"I have a feeling of confidence to speak out and read more than I did," Abby said.

Lee's ability to describe things and listen to understand accents has improved, which in turn has led to a greater enjoyment of life and a widened circle of friends.

Lee and Thompson converse about life and find out what language questions ensue.

"Abby also comes in with a list of words and definitions that she has heard on TV or in a movie. We use them in sentences so she can be sure she has a clear understanding of the words," Thompson said.

Students decide what they want to achieve in the program.

Students' range of understanding varies from those who know a couple of words to those who understand many more words than they can speak.


Luis and Brenda Martinez get help with their English skills from Rim Literacy volunteer John Griffith.

John Griffith has been working with Brenda and Luis Martinez for a couple of months.

Speaking English for Brenda means that meeting people will be easier, as will shopping.

Luis wants better communication skills to use at work.

Presently the Martinez family is going over words that have to do with things around the house, items they might find on a restaurant menu and dealing with money.

Are the lessons helping?

"Yes," Brenda said.

Griffith speaks a little Spanish, but Thompson, like most RLP tutors does not speak a language other than English.

A desire to volunteer an hour or two of time per week is all RLP requires because anyone can teach the basic structure of English.

Children are natural mimics, but adults have more difficulties. The fact that English is the only language that requires a thesaurus -- and thousands of words are added each year -- does not make learning it easier.

Rim Literacy will train volunteer teachers in ESL techniques.

One example: a tutor could open a book with a picture of a city intersection with cars, buildings, street lamps and signs.

The student would then pick out a car or a building when asked. The student would repeat words that the instructor said as he pointed out the corresponding picture.

"I might bring in a bag of groceries or things from my home," volunteer Peggy Owens said.

When Owens names the items the first few times, she teaches the word as a singular noun.

Owens taught ESL in California schools to youths whose mother tongues were Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino and Spanish.

"I had Korean students who spoke Spanish before English because there was more Spanish spoken on the playground," Owens said.

She also lived in Mexico, and then in the Czech Republic, so she knows what it is like not to understand the native tongue. "In the supermarket, I could shop, but I brought a dictionary to buy clothes," Owens said.

Literacy volunteers address individual student needs using books they take home, children's dictionaries, and CD programs.

"I enjoy working with people in an empowering position," Thompson said.

Weekly sessions last about an hour to 90 minutes.

Owens can tell when she is losing a student's attention, after all, the person may have come from work, so at times the lesson is a bit shorter.

"The time I spend volunteering is incredibly rewarding," Griffith said.

Call (928) 468-7257 to contact the Rim Literacy Program.

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