English classes attracting Hispanics
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 27, 2006
Immigrants know learning language will improve lives

Mel Meléndez

Latinos in Phoenix continue to flock to English as a second language classes, a trend educators say couldn't be more timely because a recent national study shows literacy rates among Hispanics keep dropping.

"When you consider our recent wave of immigration and the fact that so many new arrivals come with low literacy rates in their own language, that's really not a surprise," said Luis A. Enriquez, director of adult education for Friendly House in downtown Phoenix, which offers free ESL classes daily.
"But our enrollment has remained steady, which shows that immigrants value learning the language."

About 11 million U.S. adults are illiterate in English, and literacy rates for Hispanics have declined since 1992, according to a U.S. Department of Education study released last month. It surveyed 19,000 people 16 or older to gain an overall snapshot of the nation's literacy standings. No breakdown is available by state.

Friendly House is among non-profits offering ESL classes.

Hector Rodriguez, who emigrated from Havana, is taking advanced English courses there. He said the coursework will help with his career ambitions.
Rodriguez recently passed the test for his general equivalency diploma and aims to score high on Phoenix Police's written exam for new hires, he said.

"I'm here to improve my grammar," the 33-year-old west Phoenix resident said in nearly perfect English. "My goal is to be a police officer, so I want my English skills to be as perfect as possible."

According to "A First Look at the Literacy of America's Adults in the 21st Century," the Department of Education study, the average literacy score of Whites remained largely unchanged from 1992 to 2003, with Blacks and Asian-Americans, showing gains. Hispanics were the only ethnic group to show an overall dip.

Still, ESL classes abound for those interested in improving their English skills. Various non-profit groups, including ˇSí Se Puede! and Friendly House, offer English as a second language classes at no cost. Maricopa Community Colleges offer inexpensive coursework.

A recent visit to Friendly House's First Avenue facility found dozens of students, from beginners to advanced, in spirited discussions. About 2,800 students annually complete ESL classes through Friendly House.

In Adriana Schaeffer's advanced class, eight students completed written exercises on verb usages.

"Why did you use 'Some students are studying together' to describe your photo?" Schaeffer asked.

"Because its happening now in the present, teacher," responded 49-year-old Imelda Medina of south Phoenix.

After the class, the students discussed their motivations for learning English.

"We live here now and must communicate with others in our daily lives," said 32-year-old Tempe resident Maria Luque, who emigrated from Sinaloa, Mexico.
"You have to make the effort, even if it's hard at first."