English Language Learning for parents

December 3, 2018

It’s not just students who are working to learn the English language in Norfolk.

Many parents also learn English upon moving to the area, said Leonor Fuhrer, coordinator of the Norfolk Family Coalition, which helps provide support for immigrants.

Learning a new language can provide challenges for the entire family, especially at first.

“Going to the doctor’s office, grocery store, at school — it’s really hard for families that have never even been exposed to English,” she said.

Fuhrer said it can be overwhelming for new families to find all the things they need in a new town. Although local resources to help do exist, making the initial connections can be difficult.

Often, one of the first points of contact for families arriving in Norfolk is the public school district, when parents enroll their children in classes. School administrators will help connect families with services to help them get established in the community, said Angela Baumann, principal of Westside Elementary School in Norfolk.

“Part of the ELL (English Language Learning) program is just being welcoming when they come … helping families access resources and be comfortable within our larger community,” Baumann said.

The Norfolk Family Coalition is a large resource for new families, helping connect them with such resources as medical care, counseling and English classes.

The language barrier can still be a struggle for parents, though, especially at first. Children are often used as interpreters because they have more exposure to English, Fuhrer said, which can bring a number of complications.

For example, it can be a heavy responsibility for students and also cause school schedule conflicts. Fuhrer said she’s also seen truancy-related issues stem from children being needed to interpret at home or elsewhere.

“It’s like, help your family or stay in school, and most kids are going to choose helping their family,” she said. “It’s a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.

“(Norfolk Family Coalition) can take some of that off and make sure families know who they can turn to.”

Northeast Community College offers adult education classes, including preparation for GED certification and English as a Second Language.

For students who aren’t familiar enough with English to take the college’s GED preparation classes, however, some community members and other local organizations attempt to fill in the gaps.

Karen Indra, an interpreter who lives in Norfolk, has taught a free GED preparation class at the Immaculata Monastery for more than 10 years, she said.

“It’s mostly taught in Spanish,” she said. “We started it because we had some people that wanted to do it that didn’t (know) enough English.”

Indra said of the nearly 50 students she’s taught in the classes, a commonality is that they’re hard-working and busy — juggling classes with work and raising families. They also often face obstacles like child care and transportation.

Although the classes don’t focus on teaching English, she said her students start picking up the language. Some also have taken English classes at Northeast at the same time.

In one way or another, she said they often learn English along the way.

“(People who) have been here for a long time pretty much learn English,” Indra said. “That’s what people don’t understand.”

Fuhrer agreed and said fear of judgment can be another barrier to practicing English in public.

“They really are trying, but oftentimes it is that confidence thing,” she said. “ ‘If I don’t say it right, they’ll know I’m not from here,’ and that can be scary.”

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