Crossing the language barrier
EL JEBEL, Colorado- “What ice cream flavor do you like?” Barbara Schmidt asked Manuel Cubas.”I like all!” said Cubas with a smile. He then risked saying more in a language that is new to him, “My favorite is mango.”Cubas, 30, who arrived in the Roaring Fork valley four months ago from El Salvador, is taking his fourth English class from English in Action, a nonprofit based in El Jebel that helps adult immigrants learn or improve English at a very low cost. “It’s difficult to learn a new language, but I’m making an effort, trying to come to class every week,” said Cubas, who works in the area as a landscaper. “If you don’t know the language, you feel useless. It is also important to speak the language so you can relate to other people.” English in Action started as a program of the Basalt Regional Library in 1994. In 2005, it became an independent nonprofit organization with its main office in El Jebel, next to the Park & Ride. It still actively partners with the Basalt and Aspen public libraries.The program, which counts just a few full- and part-time employees, thrives on its more than 150 English-speaking volunteers who teach the classes to more than 200 students every year. Most are Hispanics from Mexico and Central America. Participants pay a $25 fee to participate.English in Action’s primary program is a one-on-one tutoring program, where the teachers meet with the students for an hour a week for a minimum of six months -though some students have stayed for many years in the program. Currently, 60 people are on a waiting list to start in this program. English in Action also holds open hours at the office in El Jebel at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday. Students don’t need to sign up for these classes. “There is a lot of interest in learning English,” said Lara Beaulieu, the program’s director. “Our programs offer flexibility. Tutors and students, once matched, can make their arrangements for when and where it’s more convenient to meet.”A similar program serves Garfield County residents. Literacy Outreach does one-on-one tutoring for people learning English and people who want to learn to read and write. For information, call 945-5282 or visit http://www.garfieldlibraries.org/literacy-outreach. An important goal of English in Action, Beaulieu said, is to give people the opportunity to develop cross-cultural friendships, not just to learn English. “We think that the relationships that people develop across cultures helps to make us a stronger community as a whole, ” Beaulieu said. “Our Open Hours program was started by several of our advanced students who wanted to help beginning students learn English,” she added. “They are some of our best teachers, because they have had the experience of learning English themselves. Also this helps to create a welcoming atmosphere for beginners. Currently four of our tutors in this program are advanced students and many others are bilingual.”The time it takes students to learn can vary, Beaulieu said.”We had a 19 year-old student who started in level 2 (levels go from 1, the lowest, to 10) and a year later he is in level 8,” Beaulieu said.Ana Ramos, a Spanish speaker who now participates in the Open Hours program, said that without the classes, it’s very hard to learn the English language. Ramos, 25, who has lived in the United States for five years, just recently started to attend the English in Action classes.”I like to learn English. It has given me a lot of security,” said Ramos, who works as a housekeeper.When asked why it took her so long to learn English, Ramos said (in Spanish still):”One gets used to getting by without it, but when I run into a person who speaks English and they ask me questions, I’m embarrassed not to be able to respond.”
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