BY JEFF NATALIE-LEES, firstname.lastname@example.org
4:05 AM EDT, May 24, 2013
Adolfo Garcia is one of the top students in the English as a Second Language class at Cornerstones, but his nearly fluent English is not the whole story.
His English reading and writing skills are poor.
"I need to improve," he said. "I only went through elementary school in Mexico, and my reading and writing are not very good. I want to get better."
Garcia, who works at Northern Beef Packers, wants to become an emergency medical technician. He said that the English class will better prepare him to study in that field someday.
Garcia, like others who take the English classes offered in the evenings, wants to master English to better communicate with other Americans.
April Poe, a Karen refugee from Myanmar, is another student. She spent nearly 17 years in a refugee
See English, 11A
camp in Thailand before she was allowed to immigrate to the United States.
In Myanmar, also known as Burma, the Karen are persecuted. She arrived in New York in 2009 and has lived in Aberdeen since 2011. She said she wants to speak better English.
"Speaking English is really, really important for our mutual life," she said. "If I can't speak English, I can't do anything in the U.S."
Poe said the hardest part of English for her is grammar. In her native language, verb tenses are not emphasized. In English, there are past, present and future tenses, and she has to remember which ones to use, she said.
Garcia and Poe are in the advanced English class, which meets Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The beginning English class meets Monday and Wednesday evenings.
Attendance at the Cornerstones English classes vary greatly, said Amy Reick, instructor. She said she has about 20 students on the rolls for each class, but fewer than half usually attend. On Tuesday night, there were four students. In addition to Poe and Garcia, Marisol Luis from Mexico and Hassan Yarrow from Somalia attended.
Reick said swings in attendance are partly because students are moving in and out of the community. While some intend to set down roots, others will move to where other family members live or for different job opportunities, she said. The students also tend to have more variable work schedules, which makes regular attendance more difficult, she said.
Luis, a temporary worker at Parkview Nursery, said she has been working in the U.S. since 2011. She periodically returns to Mexico City, where her family lives.
Her English vocabulary is limited, but her ability to communicate is good.
Reick said one thing she tries to impress upon her students is that they don't have to know every word for them to speak.
"Saying something perfect is not important," she said. "It is being understood that is the goal. If saying a sentence doesn't work the first time, try something else. Say a few words."
Part of what Reick does in class is to instill confidence in her students. Students need to speak even if they are shy, she said
"I get bossy with them," she said. "I don't accept 'I don't know' or 'I don't understand' as answers. They have to try or make a guess. I won't go away until they do."
Once students get over being uncomfortable and realize no one is going to make fun of them, they get better at conversing, she said.
Reick knows what it is like to learn a language. Although she does not know any of the languages of her students, she speaks fluent French. She said she remembers living for a time in France and having to communicate with French-speaking people. She had to keep trying until they understood her, and the effort helped her become a better speaker, she said.
She conducts the the class entirely in English.
"I couldn't possibly know Karen, Spanish, Ukrainian and the other languages of all my students," she said.
On Tuesday evening, she worked with her students on first conditional sentences. Those are "if, then" sentences. One example she gave was "If I push the bottle, it will fall over."
She asked the students to give an example.
One of the students said, "If I study English, I will learn."