Imagine living in a country where you do not know the language. Shopping in a grocery store is easy. But, suppose you have to ask someone behind a counter for help? Suppose you have to call for an appointment? These simple tasks are terrifying for anyone who does not know the local language. The loss of self-confidence is particularly difficult for well-educated individuals who were highly respected earlier in their lives.
Even if you have had considerable formal training in English, jargon, accent and culture can still block easy communication. One silly but real example of how communication in Pagosa Springs can be a mystery is illustrated by a sign in the doorway to a local employer’s office. The sign says “Nobody gets in to see the wizard-not no way-not no how.” Most Americans know at least the general idea of the phrase; many know that it comes from “The Wizard of Oz.” A student in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class copied the quote and asked for an explanation. As people begin to understand how the local language is used, their self-confidence improves, they function better and the community benefits.
The need for ESL training in Archuleta County is particularly high because of its historic ties with Mexico. To address this need, the Archuleta County Education Center offers ESL classes for residents of all ages. This program is supported by the Adult Education and Family Literacy unit (AEFLA) in the Colorado Department of Education. Although most of the students are native Spanish speaking, there have been students from Thailand, Germany and Russia. The goal of the ESL program is to provide basic instruction in English, emphasizing our jargon and culture. Success in the ESL program leads to improved job skills, integration into local culture and a generally better quality of life. Assimilation benefits both the individual and our community.
ESL programs supported by AEFLA must adhere to strict state and federal guidelines, including standardized exams. The system is based on competencies, which encompass more than 300 essential life skills that people need to be successful members of families, communities and the workforce. Test performance reflects proficiency in individual competencies, as well as progress over time.
In addition to English and cultural instruction, the ESL program also provides instruction that prepares students to pass the National Citizenship test. This exam consists of 100 questions that deal with US history and government.
ESL instructor Roberta Strickland said, “We take our lessons seriously in a fun and light-hearted way.” She also said that the greatest fear for English language-learners is being ridiculed while attempting to speak English. ESL classes are one of the best ways to build their confidence. Students learn to laugh at themselves as they learn the subtleties of the English language.
If you know someone struggling with Pagosa English, you can do them and our community a good service by suggesting that they enroll in ESL classes. These classes are offered 5-7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
Got little ones to care for? No problem. Free childcare is available.
For more information, visit the Ed Center at 4th and Lewis streets, or call 264-2843 for enrollment forms.