In every municipality, in every major city, in every state from east coast to west “Welcome to English class!” is the call I would like to hear. As immigrants flock to various cities across the nation and long to find community and employment, the road is not easy. One of the areas where we could collectively encourage the adjustment process is by fighting for more English classes.
An article in the New York Times gives some interesting information about immigrants in New York State. A report called “Bad English” put out by the Center for an Urban Future in Manhattan warns of some far-reaching consequences to something seemingly as simple as cutting budgets for ESOL classes.
Census bureau numbers indicate that from 2005 to 2009 there was a six percent rise in the number of people that identified as speaking English “less than very well”. The six percent ends up being a figure of about 1.7 million people. At the same time the number of people enrolled in ESOL classes had decreased to only four percent of those adults who spoke English poorly. The report looked at this from an economic view and warned of the serious impact to the economy. Specifically, the report states that this reality “threatens the state’s ability to tap the skills of immigrant entrepreneurs and workers to strengthen local economies”. The problem is not only adults – because of a shortage of teachers in the school system the city of New York identified over 5,000 children not getting the English they need to be succesful in a school setting.
I have never met an immigrant who was not desperate to learn English and begin working. The reality is that English skills are a necessity in most jobs within the United States. They are also important when it comes to communicating to your child’s teachers, to health care providers, to your bank and in your local grocery store. It is not easy to function without English language skills when you are creating a new life for yourself and your family.
In a book published in 2001 by Lucy Tse called Why Don’t They Learn English? Separating Fact from Fallacy in the U.S. Language Debate some of the public perceptions of immigrants and language learning are studied and found to be myths. For instance, the author found that immigrants and their children want to learn English and attempt to do just that in any way they can despite the many challenges that face them, one of them being a lack of ESOL classes.
The president of Laguardia Community College in a letter to the editor of the New York Times from earlier this fall says that “people hungry to learn English are placed on a waiting list that extends up to two years.” That’s not good enough. We can do better and my guess is that these classes would pay back ten fold what is spent through the investment in people and what immigrants give back to their communities
And so I’ll ask those hard questions: Do we want immigrants to be a significant part of our communities? Do we want immigrants to contribute to the economy in our towns? Cities? States? Do we want immigrants to feel a part of the country and not become burdened with bitterness and frustration? If so then fight for an English for Speakers of other Language class in your community. Start an ESOL class in your faith community. Be patient and willing to let people practice on you, encouraging them through the journey. Be the first to say “Welcome to English Class!”
Bloggers Note: At 83 and 85 years old my mom and dad both teach English to Speakers of Other Language classes through a church in their area. Through them I’ve learned that age is no excuse to not act.