Teen Talk Time: No adults allowed — A KCLS program allows ESL students to teach one another English, as well as how to update Facebook statuses

By Jean C Wong
Northwest Asian Weekly

Participants of Teen Talk Time huddle up in a show of solidarity.

For more than a decade, Richmond Beach Library has offered ESL classes, in addition to Talk Time for adults, helping people improve their conversational skills by discussing topics such as politics and job-seeking.

After the long-running success of Talk Time for adults, Richmond Beach Library, part of the King County Library System (KCLS) located in Shoreline, has launched Teen Talk Time to help ESL kids communicate better in social situations.

Teen Talk Time participants Lisa Beidle and her brother, William Beidle. The Beidles were born in Seoul. (Photo provided by Jean Wong)

According to Shoreline Area News, the Shoreline School District officials estimate that their middle school students speak more than 26 languages at home. In high schools, even more “home” languages are spoken. Recognizing the need to expand ESL programs for the youth community, the library launched Teen Talk Time on Jan. 5.

The moving force behind this program is Aarene Storms, a youth services librarian at Richmond Beach Library. Storms noticed that her step-children, William and Lisa Beidle, who are both ESL students, had difficulty expressing themselves on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. Translating directly from their native language into English, their status messages often sounded garbled and nonsensical.

Her step-children both grew up in Seoul and moved to Arlington when they were 16 years old. “Willie wanted to know how to ask someone to a homecoming dance and Lisa had trouble shopping at the mall, but they needed other teens to talk to about teen things, not just their step-mom!” said Storms.

This inspired Storms to write a proposal to Richmond Beach Friends of the Library to fund Teen Talk Time.

Teen Talk Time gathers students in middle school, high school, and college every Wednesday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The gathering gives them an opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills in English.

Currently, there is a small group of three leaders and about six other regular members. Members are mostly Korean, but some are South American, Chinese, and Sudanese. The tone is decidedly light and pressure free, creating an atmosphere where teens can feel free to talk about subjects that are important to them without the stress of a traditional curriculum.

At Teen Talk Time, there are no assignments, tests, or grades. As an extra incentive to attend, there is free food.

The kids snack on pizza from nearby Swannies on the Alley, which is provided each week by the Richmond Beach Friends of the Library. Topics of conversation range from shopping to dating, covering important aspects of a teen’s daily and social life.

They learn how to talk to a clerk at the shoe store, ask someone out on a date, politely accept or decline an invitation, and of course, how to properly update their Facebook status. They even discuss controversial topics such as UCLA student Alexandra Wallace’s anti-Asian Youtube video.

Before the discussion, the kids went on a news scavenger hunt to research people’s responses to the video and find stories on the topic.

Storms noted that “the kids greatly enjoyed these debates and contributed their opinions with enthusiasm.”

Storms’ step-kids regularly participate in Teen Talk Time, even though they have to take three busses to get there. Willie and Lisa Beidle attend Everett High School, which they find not to be very diverse.

As a result, they like to come to Teen Talk Time to make friends with other ESL kids.

“The first time I attended, I had been in the U.S. for only three months, but I was happy to meet other Koreans and make new friends,” said Lisa Beidle. She explained that during the two-hour conversation, led by three teen leaders, they “get to know each other and learn new things.”

Storms stressed, “It is important for participants to feel comfortable, so they must be amongst their peers, and thus, the program is led for teens by teens.”

Leaders are drawn from the Shoreline Parks Youth Ambassador program. Program leaders attended a library-sponsored training session in December 2010. They acquire ideas and skills needed for leading Teen Talk Time. They lead the discussions and activities, and make sure that each member of the group can participate. Apart from Storms, who comes in every so often to give them topics to discuss and make sure they are still speaking English, there are no adults at the meetings, so the kids can talk freely about what is going on in their lives.

Stuart Le, one of the leaders of Teen Talk Time said, “My favorite session was a partner scavenger hunt throughout the library and the local park. Everyone had a fantastic time trying to figure out what certain words meant, and trying to find them. I like to discuss about food and customs from different cultures, because it is very easy to describe and to relate to one another. We get to feel more close to each other through the sharing of food and tradition. I believe that Teen Talk Time helps everyone, because we all get to become more diverse in our mindset by becoming aware of different cultures.” Le is 17 years old, half Vietnamese, half Korean, and a student at Shorewood High School.

As a second-generation immigrant born in Edmonds, Le believes that “Teen Talk Time is more than just a program to help immigrants learn about American culture and the English language. It is also about the assimilation and diversification of cultures in Seattle, Washington state, America, and even greater, in the world as a whole.”

William Beidle, who is also one of the leaders, said, “Our job is to make sure others speak English and help them speak. First, we usually ask, ‘How was your weekend?’ or one of the members will come up with an idea. … Last time, we made a poster for Shorewood High School and Einstein Middle School, and this week, we made a song about Teen Talk Time. Next week, we will make a commercial for Teen Talk Time.”

He admits that although he enjoys meeting other Koreans and practicing his English, he most enjoys the free food. “We like to talk, but food is the best!”

Registration is not required. The program is free and open to all teens who want to practice speaking and listening in English. This is a pilot program that has so far seen success and is expected to expand soon to include other libraries, such as Shoreline Library, which is larger and closer to the schools. ♦

For more information, visit blogs.kcls.org/booktalk/aarene-richmond-beach/ and www.kcls.org/richmondbeach.

Jean Wong can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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