Bridging the Language Gap with TuPac

Walking into the Salt Lake Community Library was a surreal experience. Not only was it my first session ever as a quoted "Tutor", but the young man I was to tutor struggled with the English Language, being a Non-Native speaker from Thailand. Stressed over the task, we sat down at a lowly, somewhat hidden table in the southeast corner of the building. I had read up to that point 5 chapters on advise given to ESL tutors from the text ESL Writers, and regardless of all my adequate preparations, still felt inadequate to the task.

Upon sitting down, I asked him, "So...what homework do you have that I can help you with?" Fall break was about to begin for him the following week, so his teachers didn't provide him much work to do over the weekend. He responded, "None!" almost over happily. I shrunk back into my chair while a single word sprinted to my mind: "Damn!" Now I knew I had to put my unorthodox plan to use in order to eat up the hour required limit for this tutoring session. I started thinking really hard on how to begin, however, in the midst of that brief silence and stinging pause he did say in a broken mix of English and Thai, "Well...though I don't have any homework, I am working on a reading response." My eyes lit up as two new words shined in my mind: "Thank God!" From his backpack he  pulled out several worksheets, followed by the book he was reading, an biography about TuPac Shakur. My eyes beamed to sunlight status. I asked, "Your reading response is on TuPac Shakur!?!" Responding rather tentatively to my reaction, he said, " that bad?" With the biggest smile on my face, I over anxiously said, "No! No! Of course not! He's just my favorite rap artist." The next thing I knew, a lesson plan popped in my mind.

For the next hour and 15 minutes (longer then what is recommended): we read his notes, read some of the chapters of the book together, read some of the lyrics from his popular song "Changes" after watching the music video for it, then concluded by talking about how TuPac's influence on racial indifference differed in some ways from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By the end, we were having so much fun getting to know TuPac (and one another in the process) that we didn't know what time it was.

I sat back in my chair again, this time calmer than ever and asked, "So...what did you learn today?" he looked up and me and sat, "How to dream."

Bridging the language gap can be hard, especially as you try to use methodologies that are unconventional for yourself to teach: using pictures, videos, or having them write lyrics/sentences out can help. I believe above such methodologies though (all of which were used in my session), I think the best and most effective way to teach an ESL student is showing energy and excitement to be there with him. Once I "shined" things changed. In the words of TuPac, "We gotta start seeing changes."


  1. Yeah. The art of bringing people together requires that you find common interests, or something you can at least talk about. The more enthusiastic the interest the better. Meeting someone for the first time is a lot like staring at a blank page; it can be incredibly daunting and even intimidating. Common interests work to create familiarity, to colour in the edges, so to speak. Throughout history, some of the largest gaps between groups have been traversed by employing this tactic.

    There's a lot to be said for common interests.

    1. I agree with William here and am sad that he kind of stole what I was going to say AND said it more eloquently than I could have myself. Thanks for posting this David it was inspiring. It's so cool how much fun you guys had and how alive the world must have become for you guys because you had this common ground that you could explore and were both passionate about. It seems like that passion fed your discussion to reach some great heights and discoveries. I know that when I get excited about an explanation or feel like I truly begin to understand something while I'm in a session, that excitement and positive energy that I have in my response feeds into my tutee's success. Your post has inspired me to not only focus on the mechanics of a tutoring session and how to most effectively address an issue, but to try and find that common ground and explore what is truly great about the subject matter of my tutee's paper as well, so that we can hopefully have a lot of fun, fun which can feed our learning.

  2. Anonymous9:59 AM


    I think those moments when I am able to personally connect with a student over a topic that we both enjoy are my favorite times in the writing center. Not only does this interest arouse our participation in a session, but it also gives life to that participation, making for discussion that is far more impactful to both parties. In my sessions with nonnative speakers, in particular, I have found that finding common interests and establishing a personal connection is integral to a good session.

    I know that may not differentiate much from what has already been said here, but it is true that, as Will has stated, there is much to be said about common interests.


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