Guest Column: The joy of being a literacy tutor

Imagine getting an emergency text but not being able to read the message.

Imagine shying away from your child’s teacher because you cannot speak the language.

Imagine seeing a false charge on your credit card statement but not being able to complain because the company’s automated phone system is too hard to follow.

This is the reality of daily life for many adults — a reality that prompted me to volunteer as a tutor for the Oakland Literacy Council, which estimates that more than 170,000 adults in the county are illiterate. I wanted to give the gift of literacy to another adult. Little did I know the rewards of this volunteer work would far outstrip my efforts.



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Three years ago, the council paired me with a mother of two who moved to the United States from South Korea with her husband. She came here with an upper elementary ability to read and write English but struggled to understand spoken English and speak the language herself.

My student has a broad smile and laughs easily. During our tutoring sessions, we always find something to chuckle about. Take English idioms, for example. My student’s look of horror upon first hearing the idiom “break a leg” turned to a laugh when she understood this strange expression carries good intentions. Acronyms make us chuckle, too. Recently, we noticed the acronym “PTO” means one thing in a school newsletter (Parent-Teacher Organization) and another thing entirely in a job ad (Paid Time Off). And is a USB or an SUV the object you plug into a computer or park in a

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