Learning a few words of a different language for a vacation is one thing. Moving to another country and learning enough for daily life and employment is another. To help those for whom English isn’t their first language Moraine Park Technical College offers an English Language Learning (ELL) program that serves a broad diversity of students from South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.
Moraine Park ELL instructor Linda Tyranski said the ELL classes they teach are more than simple skill-building courses. Learning the rules of the English language and how to speak so others can understand you can be life-changing.
Manuela Gonzalez, who moved to Randolph from Mexico, once needed her husband to translate pieces of her life, such as doctor visits, that many others take for granted. “Now that I have been in English classes, I can go by myself,” said Gonzalez. “My husband and my doctor said my English is really getting better.”
Saowanee Heding of Beaver Dam, who is originally from Thailand, likewise finds daily life easier. “Since I came to English class, I feel more comfortable when I make a doctor’s appointment,” she said. “Even when I go to the store, I am not afraid to ask the sales clerk for the prices.”
There are workplace benefits as well, as Mariana Vasconcellos of Brazil was pleased to discover. Having studied international business in her country, she came to Wisconsin on a student visa and believes her ELL classes made a difference. “My English had a significant improvement and I acquired a better position in the company where I work,” she said.
For many years Moraine Park has taught reading, writing, speaking, listening and life skills through free ELL classes. In recent years the program was expanded to offer two different levels — basic and intermediate/advanced. The basic classes take students from speaking little or no English at all to communicating their basic needs in practical, everyday conversations. Intermediate/advanced classes focus on expanding vocabulary, improving grammar and practicing English conversation.
Specific skill areas – doctor visits, community, health, school, workplace, etc. – are targeted by teaching information from a state-developed and -approved curriculum, according to Tyranski. “For example, a lesson on our community may include how to read a map, how to speak with imperatives such as ‘turn right and continue for one mile,’ how to locate area resources, how to read a phone book, and so on,” she said.
This year, Moraine Park added new classes that focus on specific subject areas and provide intensive practice with pronunciation, vocabulary, writing and computer basics. A pronunciation class is being offered to parents of school-aged children, in partnership with the Beaver Dam Unified School District. Held at Jefferson Elementary School, the class covers the sounds of the English language along with accent reduction techniques. Free child care is provided for evening classes by the Beaver Dam school district.
So far, the parent-oriented class has been met with enthusiasm. “We have a lot of fun,” said Tyranski. “The students felt silly speaking the language at first and many were quiet. After just a couple of weeks, however, the whole class was more confident in speaking out loud and in their pronunciation of the language.”
Erica Avila, ELL coordinator for the Beaver Dam Unified School District, said that parents enjoy the convenience of having classes at their neighborhood school. “They are comfortable with the environment and the child care services we provide,” said Avila. “Working with our district's 21st Century Community Learning Program parent education component and Moraine Park has allowed us to expand opportunities for ELL families.” She added that the goal is to continue with more ELL classes and increase parent involvement.
For more information about ELL classes at Moraine Park or at the Beaver Dam school, contact Tony Rodriguez, Moraine Park ELL specialist, at 920-887-4496.