Dollar General grant helps adults learn English

dthackham@fortmilltimes.comJune 24, 2013 

— A literacy program from Texas is helping local educators teach English as a second language to those in need of jobs in the Lancaster and York County areas.

Last month, more than 15 people attended an intensive 12-hour training seminar over two days, in order to instruct local educators on the best methods to teach ESL to adults.

The training “focuses on teaching communicative language in the classroom,” so students learn language skills that can be applied to daily life in an English-speaking environment. About two years ago, Dollar General awarded a grant to the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas, which funded representatives from “English Forward” to three communities around the country, including the township area.

“I am aware that here in Lancaster [County], we have more of an immigrant population than people realize,” said Kathy Wilds, executive director of Carolinas Literacy Network, who has been in contact with the Texas branch with the program. “With ESL instructors in the schools with high immigrant populations, there’s no systemic training or practice used. We’re very excited to partner with [the LCCT].”

Most trainees had extensive experience with ESL training, like Susan Clemmer, the literacy liaison with Lancaster County Adult Education. Although the average age of most of the people she’s worked with is 50, Clemmer says she receives students from “17 to 70.”

“We find that with most adults, their learning style is visual and hands on,” she said, “so we need a great strategy for these people.”

One of the aides Clemmer and her peers learned about is “chalk talk,” where a teacher uses pictures on a chalkboard to tell stories and get messages across, while implementing English phrases.

“In today’s society, graphical information is the best and easiest way to communicate your message in,” Clemmer said.

Dot Whitmire, the literacy consultant for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, says she sees people who need basic English so they can become employed. One Russian woman, she said, had a degree in clothing design, but knew little English. As she learned, she was able to land a job with a local dressmaker.

“Being able to speak the language is so important,” Whitmire said. “It is very beneficial that people function independently and it’s important that we all work together and help them to give back to society.”

After thecourse, at least 10 trainees agreed to work with “English Forward” and become trainers of their own. Wilds hopes this success reinvigorates ESL community programs in other areas, while Clemmer added that the program’s training can also help immigrants live with economic independence.

“If not for these programs,” Clemmer said, “they’ll be dependent on other people and programs to help supplement their income. It affects the family in the next generation and then the community suffers.”

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