Participants in the ESL Cafe at Forest Park Public Library practice English in a comfortable setting.JEAN LOTUS/Staff

For someone learning the English language, turns of phrase can be confusing. On Monday nights and Thursday mornings, volunteer facilitators at the Forest Park Public Library help newbies to the English language discern the difference between phrases such as “in the nick of time,” “for the time being,” “in no time” and “taking one’s time.”

Forest Park resident Dana Lunberry got her graduate degree from the London School of Economics, but she grew up all over the world, and taught English as a second language in Kenya and Uganda.

“Teaching ESL is great way to meet international people,” Lunberry said.

On Monday nights, for the past two years Lunberry has guided an informal gathering of English language learners through the ins-and-outs of English idioms. Lunberry meets other world travelers and volunteers at the same time, she said.

“What happens when you ‘kill time?'” she asks her students. Some are familiar with the expression, but others carefully take notes.

Students at Lunberry’s class have been in the US and Chicago varying lengths of time, from recent arrivals to longtime residents.

Wong Young, a visiting student from Korea arrived two weeks previously. “I want to overcome my shortage of confidence [in English],” she said, formally. She said she wanted to communicate better with clerks in local stores, who were sometimes unfriendly. Kisook, also Korean, has been in the US for four years, but wants to learn more English as her two young children begin school in Forest Park.

“You can travel anywhere in the world and you can speak English,” said student Mohammed, originally from Libya. “Eventually all the books you ever want to read are going to be published in English.” Mohammed came to the US two years ago having learned in high school and speaking with an English accent. “When I asked for ‘wo-tah’ at the Chicago airport, the woman looked at me and couldn’t understand. They say ‘wah-ter’ in Chicago,” he laughed.

Maryan, from Iran, said she enjoyed learning languages, “German, French, English. You can learn English from movies, but speaking it is a little more difficult,” she noted.

Several café participants agreed English was the language of technology. “It’s an international language in the sciences,” said Jin Boa, who emigrated from China ten years ago. Anna, who also came from China said she has started to speak after being in Chicago for almost ten years. “I sometimes forget vocabulary,” she said.

But English isn’t the only international language these world-travelers have encountered.

“The other language you can speak all over the world is Turkish,” said UIC Student Anoosh, from Iran. “Everywhere in Europe the cab drivers speak Turkish. In Russia, they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Russian but they all spoke Turkish,” he noted.

A casual atmosphere helps students practice conversation and that turns into friendship, said Lunberry. “Teaching ESL is a great way to build relationships,” she said.


This article has been updtated to reflect the correct town of Dana Lunberry.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...