Skip to comments.English Lessons; Huddled Classes Yearning to Learn Free
Posted on 06/12/2007 2:55:26 PM PDT by llevrok
Queens Community House in Jackson Heights, N.Y., doesn't advertise its free English courses, but for many years its lotteries for places in the class drew hordes that required police presence. A new system has eliminated the crowds -- and the need for cops -- but competition for spaces remains fierce: Three out of four interested applicants are turned away.
"People plead and cry on the day the names are posted," says director K.C. Williams, an 18-year veteran of English-language programs. "You cannot imagine how much these immigrants want to learn English. Demand is off the charts."
English classes are crowded at Queens Community House And demand for English instruction is likely to explode in coming years. An immigration bill, now stalled in the Senate, would require 12 million illegal immigrants to show proficiency in English in order to qualify for legal permanent residency, or a green card. President Bush will meet with Senate Republicans today to try to jump start the bill, but even if that effort fails, any future immigration legislation is expected to require proficiency in English. The majority of undocumented immigrants are believed to have limited English or lack English altogether.
Yet, already, providers can't keep up with demand because of a dearth of publicly funded classes. Across the U.S., "the problem is not the unwillingness of immigrants to learn English," says Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group. "The problem is we don't provide enough classes." The cost of attending private language centers is out of reach for most new immigrants.
(Excerpt) Read more at online.wsj.com ...
Immigrant resettlement organizations, such the United Jewish Appeal, offer ESL programs using private philanthropy and some public funds. Religious organizations sometimes offer English classes taught by volunteers. Immigrants normally attend for free or pay only a nominal fee.
But amid a record influx of immigrants to the U.S., there are not enough seats in these courses to meet exploding demand. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2006, there were 1.1 million ESL students enrolled in programs backed by public funds. A survey conducted last year by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund of 184 ESL providers in 22 cities found that 57% maintained waiting lists.
In Phoenix, the state's largest provider had a waiting list of more than 1,000 people, with waiting times of up to 18 months for evening classes. In Boston, at least 16,725 adults were on waiting lists, some of them for three years. In Albuquerque, providers reported waiting times of up to 14 months. In New York City, most ESL programs no longer keep waiting lists due to huge demand.
To close the gap, in recent years there has been a proliferation of private ESL programs, offered by colleges and language schools. However, private instruction, which can cost up to several thousand dollars per semester, is out of reach for most working-class newcomers.
Some employers, including many hospitals, offer on-site English training for their foreign workforce. However, by and large, U.S. companies don't provide or finance English classes for their employees. Thus, programs administered with public funds are likely to represent the lion's share of all ESL seats for the foreseeable future, experts say.
"The government and private sector should work together to increase capacity," says Elyse Rudolph, executive director of the Literacy Assistance Center, a hub of technical assistance and training for adult-education programs in New York state.
Opponents say the U.S. government shouldn't be in the business of paying language instruction for immigrants. "We don't agree with the idea that the government owes it to them to pay for their English proficiency," says Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. As FAIR sees it, he says, exploding demand for English classes is an indication that "the flow of immigration needs to slow down."
Some politicians, radio talk-show hosts and anti-immigrant groups express concern that the swelling ranks of Spanish speakers, whom they perceive as not wanting to learn English, are diluting U.S. culture. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21.3 million residents (less than 10%) report speaking English "less than very well." Since the 1990s, several states have passed "English-only" laws designed to assert the dominance of English. Last week, the Senate passed an amendment to the immigration bill making English the country's "national language." Opponents called the measure demeaning and said they would try to kill it.
The primary federal source for ESL programs is through Title II of the Workforce Investment Act for adult education and literacy. Despite ballooning demand, the allocation hasn't kept pace, having stagnated at $570 million for the last three years. In 2005, the Bush administration proposed scaling back funding to $207 million for the 2006 fiscal year. State education officials fought back, averting the cut. But they say the episode highlights the fragile nature of federal support.
New York state's immigrant population has grown by nearly 1.3 million since 1990 to about four million today. Yet ESL programs added only 15,000 new seats over the same period; about 60,000 adults in the state are enrolled. Last year, the state allocated $144 million to adult education, which includes ESL classes, about the same as in 2005 -- including the federal funds, which states disburse to teaching centers. But the federal contribution has dropped, forcing states to pick up a bigger share of the tab. New York City is home to nearly three million foreign-born residents, and that population is expected to keep climbing. "We figure we're serving just 5% of the need" for English classes, says Ms. Rudolph of the Literacy Assistance Center.
Although the general public sometimes assumes that newcomers can learn English by carrying out their daily activities, experts estimate that between 500 and 1,000 hours of instruction are needed to master basic English verbal and literacy skills. Typically, a student enrolls for one-year, taking three cycles of 150 hours each, with the average class being 12 hours per week.
Immigrants are expected to account for most of the growth in the U.S. work force over the next two decades and to be key to the country's economic health. Research has indicated that knowledge of English is closely correlated with professional success and socioeconomic advancement. A 2005 study by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that median weekly earnings of proficient English speakers were 225% higher than those at a below basic level.
Students at the Queens Community House, which occupies several rooms in an office building near henna tattoo shops, halal butchers and other ethnic businesses, hail from more than 30 countries. But about 70% of the 650 students are native Spanish speakers, reflecting the booming numbers of Latin American immigrants to New York.
Rosa Maria Cossio, a 57-year-old immigrant from Colombia, succeeded in her third attempt to win a spot in an English course there. Currently, she works tending to a child with special needs. After completing the fifth and last English level, she plans to have enough English to enroll in a nursing course. "You know, without English you don't go far in this country," says Mrs. Cossio. Her husband, who is a barber, hopes to study English soon. Her daughter, Evelyn, who already speaks fluent English, is serving the U.S. Army in Iraq.
There are many ways to learn English, especially with cheap internet connections. Disney’s World of English and other programs are marketed abroad. I am glad people wish to learn English in the US. I doubt that teaching them in ESL classes, as this article describes, is the only way.
How many other languages do you speak? And how did you learn them?
Taking an actual ESL class helps a lot. I taught ESL in New York, mostly to Poles, and it made a big difference to them. These are low income people (hotel maids, dishwashers, etc.) who often do not have their own apartment, let alone computer.
Why are you opposed to ESL classes? New York City public schools (before the days of “bilingual education”) taught generations of immigrants and their children how to speak and read English, and many, many others learned through non-school evening programs. Why don’t you want them to learn English?
It shouldn’t be the government’s (and the taxpayers’) duty to fund a way for immigrants to become proficient in English, but at least they seems to be a desire to take up English among immigrants (and aliens).
Just curious, was "reading comprehension" not your strongest subject on the SAT?
I am glad people wish to learn English in the US. I doubt that teaching them in ESL classes, as this article describes, is the only way.
It's good that immigrants are seeking to become fluent in English, and you do point out that there is precedent with the government helping immigrants succeed in this, but--as with other things such as foreign and domestic aid--it should be voluntary donations footing the bill; alternatively, people can volunteer to help spread the language.
They're good for little enough now as it is.
I am old enough to remember when PBS came on the air in America's classrooms (early 60's) for education reasons.
“The problem is we don’t provide enough classes.” The cost of attending private language centers is out of reach for most new immigrants”
I’ve taught English as a second language...
The students were REAL immigrants and paid for their own classes..
They were dependants of GIs and Vietnamese Boat people and they wanted to learn...
No tax money was used for their classes...
Sorry, but the impression I got from your post was that you objected to the concept of ESL classes and didn’t see why they were necessary, since you yourself used other means for learning languages.
The fact is that they are an excellent tool. You sound like an educated person, you are probably not a hotel maid, and you probably have the time and space to devote to finding and using the on-line or other tools to learn a language for leisure purposes.
But if you come here from another country, need to learn to speak the language of this country correctly or at least as competently as possible in a short time, while you are simultaneously working and attempting to fend for yourself in the new language, there is no substitute for classes and human contact. The latter also gives immigrants assistance in assimilation and a behavior model for life in their new country. Much of the work of an ESL teacher is cultural, and this is a challenge because the students will not all themselves come from the same native cultures - but they all need to understand and adapt to ours.
When speakers get to a higher level and are more comfortable with our culture, they may want to use other tools. But ESL classes are a fast and traditional tool for immigrants to the US who want to gain rapid fluency and understanding of our world, and I don’t see why you should dismiss them with the haughty assurance that these people could just go out and buy themselves some CDs. You’re approaching the matter from an entirely different point of view. Every dime we spend on ESL is well spent.
Some of the current ESL organizations are volunteer groups and some of them are for-profit schools that teach classes to immigrants on the side, while teaching execs as their paying business. However, having been involved with volunteer programs, both in literacy for black Americans and in ESL for non-native speakers of English, I can tell you that they simply don’t work as well as school or “official” enrollment programs.
For one thing, volunteers are nowhere near as dependable or as qualified as paid employees; for another, even the students don’t take it as seriously.
There are times when the government has to invest in something that is actually beneficial, as it did in the past. Make the students pay a little something (because this makes them more committed), but take the money from some useless nanny-state program and put it some place where it could actually benefit us all.
That is a great idea! Maybe we should start lobbying our congressmen to press for it. Better that than NPR Biased News or another "history" program trashing western culture...
How did immigrants from the early 20th century learn English? I never heard my parents or grandparents talk about ESL classes in those days.
There are many ways to learn English,including learning it BEFORE you come to the US.
Come here and expect us to pay for your English class, your medical care, your food stamps, your housing, your ......., your ........ and your .............
The adults deemed illiterate in English include people who may be fluent in Spanish or another language but cannot comprehend English at its most simple level. Russ Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, said: "Eleven million people is an awful large number of folks who are not literate in English."
Everything in this nation that pertains to Immigration is a miserable FAILURE.
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