Sunday morning at MOCA. A time typically quiet at the museum — but last Sunday, April 18, over 30 Chinese immigrants eagerly gathered at 10am to begin their first We Are New York English conversation group. We Are NY is an Emmy-winning new TV series from the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education and CUNY created to help immigrants learn practical English, and the conversation groups are a city-wide initiative to get people together to watch the series and practice speaking with the help of volunteer facilitators.
I had the pleasure of facilitating the first conversation group at MOCA along with another MOCA member, Henry Lui, and we’ll do so once a week for the next nine weeks. Both first time volunteers with We Are NY, we had no idea what to expect. At training sessions we’d been told that the average size of a group would be 10-15 people — totally manageable for two facilitators. Imagine our surprise when we opened the doors to find more than double that number of participants waiting in the museum lobby!
The participants in our group came from all corners of New York City: some walked a few blocks to get to MOCA, others came from the outer boroughs by subway, bus and ferry. They were husband-and-wife pairs, working professionals, restaurant workers, retired grandparents, newly arrived and decade-long New Yorkers. Everyone was there with the same goal — to practice English — and for some participants, the three hours at MOCA are the only chance they have to do so.
We got off to a slow start as people were not used to the conversation group format (I think everyone was expecting Henry and me to teach English with grammar lessons and the like), but eventually they grew a little more comfortable talking to each other in pairs or groups of three. I think it will take a few weeks for every participant to be completely comfortable speaking in a group setting, but even by the end of the first session I could see that there was progress made.
Most of the participants told me at the end of the session that they would return next Sunday. I’ll be there too, with another episode of We Are NY for us to watch and new conversations for us to have.
MOCA and Young Professionals Program Member