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Maria Cecelia ESL tutor Cecelia Long is hard of hearing and Maria Villanueva spoke very little English. With each of them having a communication barrier, could they make tutoring work?

“I was a little concerned about it at first but Judy (Ward, ESL Coordinator) said she didn’t think it would be a problem,” said Long. The pair decided to give tutoring a try, and quickly found they were able to make it work.

To overcome her hearing challenges, Long uses a Bluetooth mic that connects to her hearing aids. During her tutoring sessions, she places the mic close to Villanueva so she’s able to hear her. “Sometimes I have to remind her to speak a little louder, but I can understand her if I can hear her,” Long stated.

Each week, Cecelia and Maria go through a lesson that includes phonics, pronunciation, word meaning, and reading a story with questions at the end. Though Maria has been in the United States for 17 years, it wasn’t until she started working with Cecelia that she’s seen a big difference in her ability to navigate the English-speaking world. “It’s helped everything,” Villanueva said. “When I go to the doctor, my kids have appointments or when I’m filling out papers in the school…all of it is better now. I have more confidence when speaking.”

Just as Cecelia and Maria were getting into the habit of meeting regularly, the school’s summer break presented them with another challenge. Maria has four children, so getting away for even one hour presented her with a nearly impossible challenge. They tried meeting in different locations with the children but at first nothing quite worked out. “We tried meeting at the SVHEC with the youngest child but she grew restless, and we tried the library but with four of them it was a bit distracting,” said Long.

But Cecelia and Maria were determined to make it work, and eventually they found the perfect spot at the park. There, they could go through the week’s lesson while the children ran and played as loudly as they liked.

“I’m thoroughly enjoying tutoring with Maria. I was very nervous when we first started but I’ve always enjoyed helping people, and when I was younger I wanted to be a teacher, so this has been a very positive experience for me,” Long said.

The experience has also been a positive one for Villaneuva, “I’m happy with Cecelia. She’s very patient with me,” she said with a smile.

Though Cecelia and Maria have had to navigate several challenges, they have found that flexibility and a willingness to keep going are the keys to success.

The SVHEC’s Volunteer Literacy/English as a Second Language Program provides free, confidential, one-on-one tutoring. If you would like to become a tutor, or if you would like to refer someone for services, please contact Judy Ward at 434-572-5448 or email