Lakeville ELL courses help immigrants learn English, become citizens

Moving can be a stressful experience. But when the destination is in a new country with a new language and culture, stress seems like the easy part.

ELL Teacher Anne Glassman (second from left) discusses the Lakeville school district’s new Skype program with students Weiwei, Ideli Longo and Sothea Chea. Skype allows teachers and students to practice English wherever either of them is located at a given time. Photo by Aaron M. Vehling.

When Ideli Longo learned her husband had accepted a job in the United States, she was afraid at first.

Minnesota would be “like another planet” compared to Brazil, she said.

In some ways, it has been.

“I’ve had to learn many, many new things,” including English, she said.

What helped her become a better English speaker was  her classes with the Lakeville school district’s English as a Second Language/English Language Learner program.

After taking ELL classes in grammar and conversation, Longo said she has become “more confident.”

This is important for her, she said, because “as I live here, I need to be able to understand and talk to people.”

Longo and about 11 other students were gathered in a classroom at the downtown Lakeville Area Learning Center one afternoon recently for a conversation class.

Anne Glassman, the teacher, typically offers a topic of discussion and the students – all of various ages, places and skill level – respond with an enriching exchange.

“The main purpose is to increase speaking skills and  listening skills and to learn about surviving life in the U.S.,” Glassman said.

The district works with Ryt-way Industries in Lakeville to operate some ELL classes, paid for by the company to help its employees.

There are about 15 students in a given course (in each of the Ryt-way and ALC classes), in addition to about 15 in the conversation class per session. An associated work skills training class typically has about 60 students a year.

In January, Glassman got the idea to expand programming and add the conversation class, which benefitted those who work at Ryt-way and those who do not.

Weiwei, who is originally from Mandarin-speaking China, is adamant about mastering English and learning the most she can about American culture.

“I can’t always say: ‘Excuse me, I don’t speak much English,’ ” she said.

Torn Mean, originally from Cambodia, was taking the ELL classes to prepare for life as a citizen – the big day of the test was in a few days and he was nervous.

He said he wanted to ensure his English was good enough so that he could master the exam.

Another student, Desta, is finishing up her nursing degree. She has been enrolled in Lakeville’s grammar and conversation courses, but must learn complex English medical terminology that usually isn’t covered in general courses.

To get the extra help, Desta is participating in a new Skype-based program that connects her with ELL coaches via the Internet. She can communicate using audio and video with a teacher, including Glassman.

She does not speak English at home with her husband, so the extra conversation time helped her with communicating with medical staff, she said.

Another advantage of using Skype for conversations is that many of the students already use the program to talk to family back in their native countries, Glassman said.

Glassman said she enjoys working with the students. When she’s not helping them in a class setting or Skyping with them, she’s exchanging emails with them to help them with their grammar.

“I admire them so much,” Glassman said. “I’ve traveled in Europe and don’t know that I would ever be able to up and leave family, friends and probably not go back (ever) or go back for many years. Add to that, the language barrier.”

Raya Korng and his family, including mother and sisters, was also taking the class. They all left Cambodia to come to the United States and worked hard to learn English and earn U.S. citizenship.

For Korng, it was about more than just economic opportunity.

“It’s about freedom and safety,” he said.

The conversation class benefits his family because the class “talks about different things. We all want to improve our speaking and writing.”

Angie Farrell, who is also an ESL  teacher and Skype coach, said that an added benefit for her with Skype is that she can see her students up close. If a student is not saying certain consonants or vowels correctly, it’s easier for her to see why.

The combination of grammar and conversation courses and Skype provides Angelica Jerden with a more confident approach to English.

Jerden came to the south metro a year ago from Ukraine. English will be her third language after Ukrainian and Russian. She has been taking ELL classes for eight months.

“I feel a lot of improvement when speaking to people,” she said. Her teenage son has picked up the language faster than she has, she said, but she has acquired a solid command of the language.

Glassman said she is looking for volunteer coaches to help students via Skype. The benefit, she added, is that the coach and student can stay at home and communicate.

Those interested can contact Glassman or Farrell at (952) 224-6817.