ESL Fact Sheet

The ESL Center matches volunteer tutors to adult immigrants for one-to-one instruction in English language and literacy. We serve immigrants who have come to live and work in the area and to make the Pioneer Valley their home. The Center's award-winning tutoring program helps immigrants to become full participants in our community by achieving linguistic self-reliance and familiarity with American culture and institutions. The Center Coordinator is a nationally recognized ESL/citizenship author, trainer, and curriculum developer.

What Makes this Program Different

  • The setting is ideal
    The library is the cultural and educational center of the community
  • Overhead costs are low
    About 320 hours of volunteer instructional time are donated per week
  • Scheduling is flexible
    Students can schedule around their work shifts or childcare arrangements
  • Instruction can be tailored to individual needs

What Students Learn at the ESL Center

The program helps immigrants to meet their individual goals, which differ greatly from student to student. Some of the goals students are currently working toward include:
  • Improving job communication skills
  • Getting a driver's license
  • Becoming a U.S. citizen
  • Communicating effectively with their children's teachers and health care providers
  • Getting a "safe serve" or similar workplace credential for a promotion
  • Communicating better with customers, supervisors and co-workers
  • Enrolling in community college next year
  • Getting a high enough TOEFL score to enter the university


  • Half of our current students are Asian (from Korea, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, and Japan). About 25% are Latin American, and a few come from countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, India and Cape Verde.
  • While some students were professionals in their native countries, many were farmers, market vendors, or unemployed, and have very little formal education.
  • They came to the United States as refugees, through asylum, amnesty, or diversity lotteries, dependants of H1-B recipients (work visa) and as family visa recipients.
  • 85% of the students are working, which means tutoring is scheduled around that. Of non-working students, most are full time caregivers for their children and a small number are retired.


There are currently 80 tutors matched with students at the ESL Center. Our volunteers represent a wide range of Amherst residents. About 20% are college students, and another 10% are retired professionals. The rest are ordinary people who volunteer outside of their regular work hours.

Tutors receive a ten-hour training workshop, a handbook and on-going support from the ESL Center coordinator. Some choose to work with more than one student, and many have been volunteering for years. All are asked to make a 9-month commitment to the program.


The ESL Center offers information/application packets and study materials to immigrants who are ready to apply for citizenship. Individuals are offered tutors, occasional classes, application assistance and practice interviews. We estimate that 20 immigrants each year would not be able to naturalize without the extra help we offer. Our success rate with citizenship students is 100%.

What would happen if the service was no longer available? Immigrants would face a bewildering set of barriers to instruction, such as:
  • Lack of classroom slots in state-funded adult education programs
  • Lack of transportation (when out-of-town classes are the only option)
  • Inability to change work schedules or childcare arrangements in order to attend scheduled classes
  • Required minimum competency tests, for access to community college E.S.L. courses
  • No available instruction for specific needs/goals
  • Long waiting lists for services

The Center

The ESL Center is located on the lower level of the Jones Library, the Town Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. Tutors and students use 3 conference rooms, 1 of which includes a computer with English learning software and Internet access. A specialized collection of 1,782 books, tapes, videos, and other instructional materials supports the learning process. These public facilities are open 7 days a week from September through May and 6 days a week through the summer months.