WARSAW — Learning another language offers unique challenges — especially when it’s the English language.
English isn’t a contender for the most difficult language to learn, but it is one of the most contradictory. Rules meant to be followed often have multiple exceptions and several words can be spelled or sound the same, yet have completely different meanings.
In spite of the difficulty, English as a second language classes continue to grow in Kosciusko County and around the country. With the free ESL program in place for more than 10 years at the Gateway Education Center, Principal Steve Ferber has seen the need increase during his time — so much so ESL classes will now continue through the summer.
“The teachers and students want us to continue through the summer so we don’t lose that momentum,” commented Ferber, who understands how easy it is to fall out of the habit of learning when it comes to language. “We’ve solidified that decision because of the number of connections and relationships being formed.”
ESL students come from all walks of life and are learning for a variety of reasons — whether it be to communicate with their child and child’s teachers better, to better navigate the corporate world they’ve entered from another country or to communicate and connect more easily within the community.
Offered from 7 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, the classes have levels for beginners just starting to learn or for more advanced students who have a larger vocabulary and understanding of the language. While Warsaw Adult Education is just one of many programs that has created an opportunity for ESL, it does meet more frequently than other classes.
“This can have a tremendous impact on our community, whether it’s just enhancing the skills of our diverse population for communication, how they can be engaged in their children’s education or just the opportunity it might present for employment,” said Ferber.
Ultimately, an increase in students would mean an increase in program funding. If presented with an opportunity in the future, GEC would like to see morning ESL classes become available. Family is a priority amongst the students and staff at GEC.
Being able to offer morning classes could better suit the needs of students who are stay-at-home parents or who work evenings.
A unique feature the ESL program offers is Burlington English, an online program students can use at home. Once given a headset, students can practice speaking English as opposed to struggling to hear over a large group. The program allows students to work at their own pace, releasing them of the pressure to keep up or slow down.
Diana Clark, who manages the ESL program, recalled an Arabic-speaking student from Africa attending the HSE class. While he was great with math, he struggled with reading and writing. Despite not being in the ESL class, Clark sent him home with Burlington to practice English. As a result, she could see great improvement in his work.
“It’s great to see them gain confidence,” said Clark. “We have one student who goes from ESL to the high school equivalency, or GED, class. It’s neat to see them gain that confidence in speaking English and then going into the other class.
“The teachers love going to class. It’s a fun social time where everyone can practice their English in a safe environment.”