Lingo lessons at Iowa college help immigrants learn English
By MICHAELE NIEHAUS
Aug. 26, 2018
WEST BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) — Lala Badali was a dentist in Azerbaijan and wants to pursue the same profession in the U.S., but before she can attend the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, she must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language.
That's why she's spent two days each week for the past eight months at Southeastern Community College, where she and other immigrants wanting to spruce up their English vocabulary are able to learn and practice English language skills such as reading, writing and pronunciation.
"I like English. I want to speak English perfectly," said Badali, who, in addition to Azerbaijani, also speaks Turkish and Russian.
Helping her to accomplish that goal is Martin Distelhorst, an Adult Education Literacy instructor at the West Burlington campus. He begins each class with vocabulary, words like lackadaisical, preponderance and nomenclature.
"They like to expand their vocabulary and that's a great way to learn English," Distelhorst said.
After students find the meanings of the words, they write the definitions on the whiteboard and practice pronouncing them and using them in a sentence. Sometimes, the class will play games like Scrabble.
Badali learned of the class from her husband, who moved to Burlington for a job with General Electric, now ABB, and took the same class.
The Hawk Eye reports that the free, non-credit class also offers help to people wanting to practice interviewing skills or obtain a high school diploma from the U.S. as well as those needing study help for their citizenship test.
"It's more basic education," Distelhorst said "They may come here to get some more basic English language skills. Some of them actually may want to get into the job market, so we'll work on resumes and interviews. Some of them are interested in possibly getting their high school diploma from the U.S. ... We'll go over citizenship things, learn about America."
The program does not require students to provide proof of citizenship or legal status.
The class meets from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays each week. The classes, available through the federal Adult Education program, are ongoing, and students may attend for as long as they need to.
Students take two assessments, one for listening and the other for reading, during their first class. The assessments are not graded, but instead are used to determine in what areas individual students need help most.
Students in the class learn from the instructor, each other and Burlington English, a Florida-based computer program wherein students can select their native language and learn basic English as well as terminology related to various career fields, such as health care.
"The nice thing about it is they can actually talk into a microphone and it'll check on their pronunciation," Distelhorst said.
Distelhorst said his students come from a variety of educational backgrounds and countries. He once had an electrical engineer from France and has had plenty of students who want to improve their English for job opportunities. He now has students from eight countries, though attendance fluctuates depending on students' work schedules.
Nohora Eland of Dallas City, Illinois, moved from Bogotá, Colombia, to the U.S. 14 years ago. She now works at Shearer's Snacks in West Burlington but wants to become a nurse. She wants to have a better grasp of English before she begins taking classes.
"My pronunciation is very difficult," she said.
Once she does begin taking credit classes for the nursing program, she can further hone her English skills through SCC's for-credit ESL classes, should she need to. SCC has several tiers of ESL classes for non-native English speakers enrolled in its programs. Those classes focus on reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar and cultural orientation.
Because of her work schedule, Eland typically cannot get to the class until after 6 p.m., but the lessons are flexible to accommodate such conflicts.
Though their native languages are different, Eland and Badali said learning alongside other people whose first language is not English is advantageous.
Deb Mulch, director of adult education and literacy at SCC, said the program, available in West Burlington and Mount Pleasant, served 42 students during the 2017-18 program year.
Distelhorst has an average of eight students per night. Fourteen people are signed up for it, but some of them have been working overtime lately and have been unable to attend.
"We're always looking for new students," Distelhorst said.
Information from: The Hawk Eye, http://www.thehawkeye.com