How Immigrants Can Find English Classes

Community colleges, high schools, resource centers

Language barriers are still among the most formidable obstacles for immigrants coming to the United States.

English can be a difficult language for new arrivals to learn. And Americans constantly complain that immigrants are unwilling or unable to learn the nation’s native tongue.

In fact, immigrants are willing. Nationally, the demand for English as 2nd Language classes has consistently exceeded supply in recent years.

Many immigrants have difficulty finding ESL classes with openings that fit into their work schedules.

But the learning opportunities are out there. You just need to know where to look.

The Internet has made it easier for immigrants to learn the language from their homes when it’s convenient for them. Go on line and you'll find sites with English tutorials, tips and exercises that are an invaluable resource for beginning and intermediate speakers.

Immigrants looking for more structured learning should check out community colleges in their area. There are roughly 1600 community and junior college campuses scattered across the United States, with a total enrollment of about 13 million. The overwhelming majority of them offer ESL classes.

Perhaps the most attractive advantage of community colleges is cost. Their classes are 20% to 80% less than four-year schools, and they also offer programs in the evenings to accommodate students’ work schedules.

Another place for immigrants to look is the local school district. Hundreds of school boards offer continuing education programs for adults, and many high schools have ESL classes after regular hours. Fees are small, but the opportunity to practice and improve fluency is often great.

Among the fastest growing education vehicles for immigrants are labor and resource centers that are often run by non-profit groups, sometimes in partnership with local government agencies.

One of the best examples of these is the El Sol Neighborhood Resource Center in Jupiter, Fla., which offers English classes three nights a week, primarily to immigrants from Central America.

Hundreds of workers go through El Sol’s ESL program each year and learn the language for free. Many resource centers also teach computer classes which enable students to continue their language studies on the Internet.

Resource centers tend to encourage a relaxed environment for learning. It can be easy for friends, co-workers and spouses can schedule classes together and support one another.

Make no mistake that Americans consider it important for immigrants to speak English. Each of the comprehensive immigration reform bills Congress has considered during the last two years has had a requirement that immigrants in the U.S. illegally be fluent in English before applying for legal residency.

Immigrants need to be functional in English to apply for driver’s licenses and fill out government forms, or even comply with local laws and regulations. They certainly have to have a command of the language to pass the test for citizenship.

Despite obstacles and criticism that people are unwilling to learn English, immigrants do become fluent, though it often takes time.

The National Immigration Forum reports that more than 75% of immigrants speak English well with 10 years of their arrival.

English is not an easy language to learn, and even signing up for a class can be tricky. Here’s a warning: don’t confuse ESL with courses described only as “English.”

That typically can mean English literature, not the study of speaking the language itself!

Some Important Things To Remember When Learning English

Keep a positive attitude. Don't feel like you have to apologize for having trouble speaking the language.

Train your ears to understand what you are hearing. Stop, look and listen

Take a deep breath and relax before you speak.

Ask friends to help and practice with them. That's what friends are for, right?

Keep a notebook with you and write down new words that will be helpful to your daily life.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone does when learning something new.

Above all, don't give up.