EVERETT — Language can be a barrier that separates neighbors.
Madison Community Church is hoping to break down those walls for some and help them with their English language skills. The church launched Talk Time in September.
On Thursday evenings, the small church in the Pinehurst neighborhood opens its doors to anyone in the community who wants to practice speaking English. Trained volunteers are there to guide the conversations, tackle tricky pronunciations and sort out those pesky prepositions.
Understanding the language in their new community “helps people feel comfortable,” said Ann Grinnell, the church’s pastor of multicultural outreach.
There is about 150 years of teaching experience among the 10 or so volunteers. Some were public school teachers, others teach at the college level and some volunteers were educators overseas.
Margie Snodgrass is a veteran teacher and tutor. She helped establish a Talk Time at North Seattle Church six years ago. She and Grinnell have been friends for years.
Snodgrass, who speaks Spanish, led a lesson Thursday evening. A mother and daughter from China and a married couple from Russia read from a handout about Theodore Roosevelt. His name required some practice. They consulted online dictionaries on their phones when stumped by words such as “energetic” and “asthma.”
Faces lit up when the students added words to their growing vocabulary: upholstery, rancher, and special.
Galina Matveeva and her husband learned about Talk Time through the Marysville Goodwill. They’ve only been in the U.S. for eight months. They studied English as children but the lessons didn’t stick.
“Good teachers, bad program,” Matveeva said.
She has learned to read and write using an online software program. When it comes to speaking though, that’s where her confidence wavers.
“The words don’t come,” she said.
A discussion about teddy bears led to questions about sewing. Snodgrass acted out the word. Matveeva consulted her online dictionary. She doesn’t sew but she knits.
Her husband beamed. “She knits everything, coats, everything,” Andrey Matveev said.
The church office building was packed Thursday. A woman from El Salvador practiced tough vowel sounds. Students from the Philippines brought snacks. Grinnell worked with a young man from Indonesia.
Kay Bishop is a retired Everett Public Schools teacher, who teaches part time at Everett Community College for the Refugee &Immigrant Forum of Snohomish County.
She also is a member of the congregation. She said it is rewarding to use her profession where she shares her faith. She also enjoys meeting people from other countries, she said.
Talk Time is part of a movement at the church, Grinnell said.
The congregation has a heart for its immigrant neighbors and is planning other programs to reach out, she said. Plans were in the works well before the presidential election, which brought more scrutiny to immigration issues.
“We’re a very small church, but that can’t be our focus,” Grinnell said. “Our focus is on the God we serve.”
They take their lessons from Jesus. He cared about people. “We just want to be his hands and feet,” she said. “We want to care for the people in our community.”
The church, part of the International Christian and Missionary Alliance, hired Grinnell more than a year ago.
She is an Everett native, having graduated from high school here. She lived and worked for 41 years in Indonesia as a missionary. She taught high school and college coursework. Grinnell also taught aspiring youth pastors.
Everett is not the same place she left four decades ago. Its growing diversity led Grinnell to return home.
She and the church see the potential to make a difference in the lives of people who don’t look like or talk like them.
“We want to welcome the world to Madison,” Grinnell said.