LIVINGSTON, NJ — A free English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the West Essex YMCA that is aimed toward immigrants and English language learners is currently expanding to include children.

The conversational English class has been offered on Sundays since late 2016 and is now also offered on Tuesdays to any area residents from a variety of backgrounds, ages and ethnicities looking to break down the language barrier. Anshul Nayar, a Millburn High School student who founded the program, said that after working with adults, helping children seems like the next logical step.

“Because many immigrant children are thrown into the public school system without much of a safety net, I think there is a big hole that community classes such as ours can help fill,” he said. “We can also help with questions they may have about their schoolwork.”

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Nayar said the main benefit for children would come from simply practicing conversing with native English speakers who are relatively close in age.

“With this practice, I am confident that they will realize that doing so in school is well within their reach,” he said.

As a yearlong project in 10th grade, Nayar studied the English language barrier in America, which enlightened him about the immense language and cultural barriers that immigrants “must overcome to become ‘Americans.’”

“After seeing the lack of funding and attention that is paid to this growing issue, I thought that starting my own ESL class at the YMCA could be my way of helping work toward a solution,” he said.

Through the YMCA Togetherhood Committee, Cheryl Francione, associate executive director at the time, guided Nayar in initiating this program at the Y. According to Executive Director Helen Flores, Francione gave Nayar “the freedom to spread his wings and reach out to an underserved population in our community.” 

“ESL is such an important, free program for our community,” said Francione. “Those who are learning English get to choose where they need help—from everyday conversations to preparing for a job interview. It helps them feel more confident and comfortable.”

Considering that Nayar is not a formally trained ESL teacher, he was not sure if his program would be successful, but counted on his experiences in learning Hindi and Spanish to help others learn conversational English and has been doing so ever since.

“It’s been such a rewarding experience both from those who want to improve their spoken English and those who want to help others assimilate,” said Nayar. “Everyone shows up every single week, enthusiastic to learn and teach. Seeing the joy this brings them has been the most rewarding aspect.”

According to his mother, Suchita, who also volunteers as an ESL teacher at the Y, there is one Russian couple that never misses a week.  The couple is attempting to improve their spoken English in order to improve communication with their American granddaughters.

Other adult students currently include an immigrant from Mexico who is working to improve his speaking skills in order to expand his small painting business, and a young mother who grew up in China and hopes to enhance her overall English comprehension as well as job-interview skills. There are currently nearly a dozen students in the program, but Nayar and the other volunteers are confident that it will grow.

Nayar said his favorite thing about the program is seeing how excited the students are to start class every week.

“Seeing that one is making a real difference, however small it may be, in someone else’s life is very gratifying,” said Nayar. “In addition to spoken English, we also focus on cultural holidays. This strong sense of community is probably what leads them to return each week. After sharing laughs over mistakes that are typical for new language learners, we now feel a true comfort with each other that takes time and effort to develop.”

Flores said Nayar is a caring individual who recognized the difficulty immigrants were having getting assimilated into American culture, especially in the language arena.

“Through the Togetherhood program at the Y, this ESL program in conversational English grew and because of Anshul’s attitude, commitment and patience, it continues today,” said Flores. “I am grateful for the impact this young man is making in our Y community and pleased that he has chosen our Y to utilize his skills.”

Interested residents can get involved either as teachers or students. Both members and non-members of the Y are welcome to join for free. For more information or to become involved, call the YMCA at 973-992-7500 or contact Helen Flores, executive director, at