Teenager Offers ‘Survival English’ Classes to Senior Immigrants

Teenager Offers ‘Survival English’ Classes to Senior Immigrants
Michelle Mikhels, a high school student and “Survival English” instructor. Courtesy of Michelle Mikhels.

Many senior immigrants who were previously able to communicate by using facial expressions and gestures, despite the language barrier, have found themselves alone and struggling as the pandemic mask mandates make communication harder. In Southern Brooklyn, they have found an ally in Bath Beach teenager Michelle Mikhels.

Mikhels noticed last Spring that elderly neighbors who do not speak English and cannot always be accompanied by English speaking family members due to COVID-19 concerns were struggling to communicate at pharmacies and supermarkets, limiting their independence. Looking to help, Mikhels decided to offer Survival English classes.

Mikhels, 16, is an honors student at Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences, and a first-generation American. Teaching English has enabled her to give back and put her bilingual skills in both English and Russian to good use.

“I started teaching Survival English because, during the coronavirus pandemic, I noticed that many people had trouble communicating due to masks and face shields covering their facial expressions,” Mikhels told us.

Her classes, held over Zoom, typically have four to five people and include practice conversations playing out different everyday situations using the phrases learned. Because not all of her students are technologically adept, she also teaches them how to use Zoom and similar platforms.

While many of her students are Russian-speaking senior citizens, the classes are open to immigrants of all ages and backgrounds, and she says she’s helped over 50 individuals master the basics since she started.

Sessions are free and held every Thursday after Mikhels is finished with school. If you know someone who would benefit, you can contact Mikhels at survivalenglishnyc@gmail.com.

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