There is new program at the Forest Park Public Library that aims to teach students how to speak better English. It started on Dec. 2, and the class meets every Thursday morning at 10 a.m. I wasn’t sure exactly what the program involved but I knew I wanted to improve my English, so I decided to attend.

When I got to the conference room the volunteer teacher, Margoann Brown, was conversing in English with two women and a man from Forest Park who were primarily Spanish speaking. They were talking about their favorite TV shows. One woman likes the detective show “Criminal Minds,” because “the actor is very handsome.”

Having never attended a class like this, I wasn’t sure how valuable it was to discuss TV, soccer and old cars for the purpose of speaking better English. Afterwards, though, I consulted a Russian-speaking friend, who assured me that conversational English was non-existent in many homes and the opportunity to practice could open up new worlds for non-native speakers.

Margoann promotes this kind of language practice in the home, urging her students to speak English with their children for a half-hour each day. Otherwise, many of these adults find themselves isolated from the English language and American society, in general. For example, one of the students was describing how she takes her children to school, cleans the house and cooks every day. It’s not surprising she doesn’t have much opportunity to practice English.

As we all remember from studying grammar, our language is a minefield of arbitrary rules and exceptions. It’s so easy to stumble; many foreign speakers lack the confidence to even try. In my experience as a census worker and a private detective, I often meet people who claimed they couldn’t speak English. However, once a rapport is established, we have little problem communicating.

Margoann is a conversationalist who makes her students comfortable by getting them to discuss their favorite subjects. She’s also part teacher, introducing new words and shades of meaning, like the distinction between cheap and frugal. She even tackled the grammar question that gave us all trouble in school – the difference between adjectives and adverbs.

She’s no stranger to the classroom, having taught in the Chicago Public Schools and ten years of ESL classes at Triton College. She said her language students give her a fresh perspective on American culture and it’s very rewarding to see them improve. She noted that takeoff can be slow, but then they build speed.

The class I attended was a slow takeoff, but I’ve been invited to come back in three months to see it in full flight. For the time being, the program’s originator, Diane Collins is looking for a volunteer with a teaching or tutoring background to start an evening class. A class where Forest Parkers can share, among other things, how much they like watching soccer on TV.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.