Courtesy of Bridges ESL

Bridges ESL is welcoming New Haveners back to the Asian American and La Casa Cultural Centers for interactive English lessons taught by Yale students. 

Bridges has been serving the Greater New Haven community for over two decades, bringing locals, immigrants and refugees a language-learning experience that centralizes both conversation and application.

After adopting a virtual model during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization is returning to Yale’s cultural centers. This fall, approximately 100 students — an overwhelming majority of whom are adults — can choose to learn through Zoom or come in-person to live sessions. 

Classes are organized on a semesterly basis, with eight sessions across the fourteen weeks, and the most recent class running on a hybrid model

“The most remarkable thing about Bridges is the opportunity to interact with other students in my class … students from different parts of the world and who are also learning English,” student Juan Suarez, 57, said. “I remember one lesson where we went around and shared parts of our different cultures — the music, the food and our traditions.”

This will be the third year that Suarez will be attending Bridges classes, and he stated that one thing never changes: the intimate class size and the individualized care that tutors give their students.

Each group typically consists of one tutor and three to four students, said Club President Isabelle Stemerman ’23, who also emphasized that students are grouped based on their unique experience level. 

Currently, Bridges offers instruction in five levels that model the system of Yale’s language courses: Survival as L1, Beginner as L2, Intermediate Low as L3, Intermediate High as L4 and finally, Advanced as L5. 

According to Stemerman, tutors have the freedom to design their own lesson plan, though many prioritize interdisciplinary instruction. 

“In addition to reading articles from The New York Times together and completing grammar exercises, I like to play Wordle with my students and have them debate about a topic,” Stemerman said. “Because many of our students are adults, it is important that we take a conversational approach to teaching and make sure that they can apply these skills in professional settings.” 

It is this sense of community that Adil Achter, 34, said he looks forward most to during class time. 2022 is both Achter’s eighth year in New Haven since moving from Morocco, as well as his second year participating in Bridges. He said that Bridges literally serves as a “bridge between the New Haven and Yale communities,” allowing him to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

Daniela Costa, 29, echoed Suarez and Achter’s sentiments about the collaborative nature of the program. Despite participating in its virtual model, Costa noted that the most significant takeaway for her has always been the “opportunity to meet new people … both inside or outside the U.S.” and the chance to talk about her rich culture with others. 

Looking ahead into the future, Charlie Mayock-Bradley ’23 — former Bridges tutor, recruitment director and co-president — hopes that the current Bridges leadership will collaborate with other city and University organizations to make education more equitable and accessible. He noted previous partnerships with Matriculate, Splash and Yeti and thanked the AACC and La Casa for their support in providing critical guidance and resources for Bridges. 

What makes Bridges different from other Dwight Hall organizations and Yale clubs, Mayock-Bradley said, is the fact that anyone can join as a tutor or student regardless of prior experience. To him, the program is an emblem of working together to build teaching and language skills at a level that everyone can find comfort in — and to cultivate an organic relationship with the surrounding community. 

According to Mayock-Bradley, Bridges is what education should look like. 

As a child [of] immigrant parents, I [especially] know the importance of being able to speak English,” said Breanna Nguyen ’25, a tutor volunteering at Bridges this semester. “The entire experience is rewarding in itself, but when I get to see my students improve week by week, it assures me that we are making good progress.”

Live classes run from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. 

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!