Immigrants Tackle English; Called 'The Key' to Achieving Success in the U.S

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 27, 2006 | Go to article overview

Immigrants Tackle English; Called 'The Key' to Achieving Success in the U.S


Byline: Shelley Widhalm, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Arlington resident Zinat Ara has the education and experience, but her English skills need some improvement before she can land a job in women's health.

Mrs. Ara, who immigrated 10 months ago from Bangladesh, realized she needed to sign up for English as a second language (ESL) classes and placed in level four of the five-level program at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) in Alexandria. When she finishes the last ESL course this fall, she plans to begin earning a second master's degree in public health.

"We're learning new vocabulary. We're learning different terms," Mrs. Ara says. "In my country, I never heard about organizing my writing."

Mrs. Ara is a student in Kathleen Wax's advanced critical-reading ESL class.

"We use a lot of different methods. We use textbooks, direct instruction of vocabulary and passive acquisition of vocabulary where students read and pick it up," says Ms. Wax, associate professor and one of the assistant deans for ESL and developmental English at NVCC.

Non-native speakers like Mrs. Ara who want to learn or improve their English can choose from preparatory college programs; adult literacy classes, which often are focused on job and life skills; and elementary school programs that help parents provide support for their schoolchildren.

ESL is taught in countries where English is the dominant language, such as the United States, Canada and Britain. English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), a term interchangeable with ESL, focuses on teaching English to students of any language. English as a foreign language (EFL) is taught in countries where the dominant language is not English.

"As debates over immigration illustrate, the key to achieving success in the United States is being able to speak English," says John

Segota, advocacy and communications manager for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Inc., a global professional organization based in Alexandria.

Learning English is essential for many jobs, participating in the community and working toward citizenship, says Lennox McLendon, executive director of the National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium, a resource in Northwest for the states' directors of adult education and their staff that provides information, professional development and policy analysis.

"You need to be able to speak the language for work, family and community," Mr. McLendon says.

Non-native speakers attending public schools have access to programs that teach English and prepare them for their academic careers. But adults needing to learn English have to seek out ESL or ESOL classes offered through community centers, continuing education programs, community-based organizations, churches and social welfare agencies.

As immigration increases, ESL and ESOL classes are experiencing an influx of people speaking many different languages, says Joy Peyton, vice president of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Northwest and director of the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA), a project of CAL. CAL is a nonprofit organization that focuses on issues of language and culture in education, and CAELA focuses on adult language education.

Immigrants come from different cultures, vary in skill level in oral and written English, and are at various levels of proficiency in their own languages, says Mrs. Peyton, who holds a doctorate in linguistics.

"If they're not literate in their native language and learning to become literate in English, that's an additional challenge," Mrs. …

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