Group eases way for English learners
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 22, 2006


Cary Aspinwall

The typical student attending the Southeast Regional Library's English as a Second Language conversation group can read and write the language fairly well.

But speaking it is another hurdle, one that can stump a newcomer's adjustment to life in the Valley.

The library's conversation group aims to make the transition easier for Southeast Valley newcomers from foreign countries, program coordinator Terry Doepken said.

About 6 percent of Gilbert's population is foreign-born, according to town statistics. The largest percentage of Gilbert's immigrant population comes from Latin America.

And diversity from all ethnic groups in Gilbert has grown significantly since 1990 - many at more than twice the percentage increase of the town's Anglo population.

The library's eight-week conversation program is free and requires no registration. Any interested participant may attend the Saturday sessions at 10 a.m. through April 1 at the Southeast Regional Library, 775 N. Greenfield Road. The program starts again in the fall.

The conversation group provides a different experience from instructional classes or one-on-one tutoring. Developing conversational skills often is the hardest part of learning a language, so most of the classes focus on vocabulary building and practicing casual conversation, Doepken said.

Practical skills for daily living in the United States and Arizona, such as phone etiquette and using the phone book to find resources, are emphasized.

"A lot of it is answering those 'Why do Americans do it this way?' type questions," Doepken said. "And often it leads to great cultural discussions."

The program was started by literacy volunteers who noticed that ESL students would speak only their native language at home, and needed more practice conversing in English, Doepken said.

Information: (480) 539-5120.