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CALS Project Brings Employees Together to Improve Skills

In Five Years, CALS Has Teamed More than 330 Pairs of Tutors and Learners

by Sunny Merik, Public Affairs
posted October 28, 1998

Every week on campus hundreds of staff members meet in pairs or small groups to work on improving language, reading and math skills. The tutors and learners are part of the CALS (Cal Literacy and Skills) Project, a confidential tutoring program established in 1993.

Mary McCormick (left) and Sanai Tadokoro meet over lunch topractice pronunciation
Mary McCormick (left) and Sanai Tadokoro meet over lunch to
practice pronunciation.

During their weekly meetings, these staffers not only improve their speaking, writing and math, but also form friendships that can last a lifetime.

"Improved literacy transforms lives," said project coordinator Jane Griswold. "The ability to communicate easily, to understand the spoken word, to read and comprehend, to be able to send email is not only vital for workplace success, it develops self-confidence for other areas of life as well."

In the crush of workday schedules, staffers Mary McCormick and Sanai Tadokoro meet to practice pronunciation.

McCormick, a word processor with Continuing Education of the Bar, said, "I was a teacher years ago and thought it would be nice to use my dormant teaching skills to help a colleague.

"I was really surprised at all I learned, all I have gotten out of our weekly meetings. I've gained so much from Sanai -- seeing and learning about a different culture. This CALS Project has a lot of benefits."

Tadokoro, administrative coordinator with Communication and Network Services, said, "We've been meeting for two years on and off. At first, I read business articles into a tape recorder, and Mary would listen and then correct my pronunciation. I'd listen to her corrections and practice them."

Now the two women talk over lunch whenever they can.

Tadokoro, who has been with the university since 1979, said,"Employees who love the university but are self-conscious about their language skills should use this program. I am very happy I did. I can now speak in front of groups and feel comfortable. And I learned a lot about the differences between my Japanese culture and American culture, too."

Tadokoro described how interacting with McCormick helped her discover differences in body language. "For example, Japanese nod during a conversation to be friendly. It doesn't mean we agree. But Americans think the nod means we agree.

"Our one-to-one conversations helped me recognize and understand the small stuff that's different. And that's important."

Griswold, the driving force behind the CALS Project, came to Berkeley from San Leandro where she had created the City Library's adult literacy program.

With a master's in social work and years of literacy programs behind her, Griswold said, "I am passionate about this work. Being able to understand and be understood is so important in today's increasingly demanding workplace."

There is no cost to CALS Project participants, according to Griswold. "All UC Berkeley employees qualify for the program. Tutoring is available to both native-born English speakers and those for whom English is a second language," she said.

Participants are asked to commit at least six months to the program, she said.

Most of the tutors are female, Griswold said, but the learners are about 50-50 men and women. "We provide classroom training to help the volunteer tutors prepare to work with their partners," she said.

A pilot small-group program has resulted in increased knowledge of English grammar, expanded vocabulary, clearer pronunciation, better understanding of spoken English, and a stronger ability to read and recognize written English for 17 custodians, according to Griswold.

"Whether we're working with campus custodians or visiting scientists from other countries, the CALS Project is here to help and to build community," Griswold said.

For information on the CALS Project, visit the web site at or call 643-5280.


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