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