May 9, 2003 - The Pilot: El Salvador RPCV Sherri Mangum teaches English to immigrants by total immersion

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El Salvador RPCV Sherri Mangum teaches English to immigrants by total immersion

El Salvador RPCV Sherri Mangum teaches English to immigrants by total immersion

Learning English is Family Affair

By Lynn Rhoades: Special to The Pilot

This is the third in a six-part series.
It’s 8:30 a.m. on a rainy November morning at First Baptist Church in Robbins.

Seven students sit around a long table, reading aloud from a first aid manual with their fall-semester instructor, Sherri Mangum.

First aid skills are an added bonus to the real reason these students have come to class today, though. They are here to learn English.

English as a second language is offered through the Basic Skills Program at Sandhills Community College. Both day and evening classes are available on the college campus, as well as at sites in Robbins and Hoke County. The Robbins ESL class is a part of the Family Literacy Program as well, and is partially funded through Smart Start.

ESL family literacy classes are offered to anyone raising a child who needs help in mastering spoken or written English. Separate family literacy classes are available to English speakers as well. According to Maria Campbell, coordinator for ESL and Bilingual Education at Sandhills, the premise is the same for both: helping children by helping their parents.

Most ESL students end up coming to classes because a friend or family member is going, Campbell says.

“They basically show up in the classroom, and we do the registration process there,” she says. “We do an assessment to see what level of English they al-ready have. Ideally, in bigger colleges like in Charlotte or Fayette-ville, ESL classes are divided by levels. But they have hundreds of students. Here we have smaller classes. It gets challenging for the students and for the instructor to have different levels.”

That wide range of skills is evident in Mangum’s class, which usually has about 10 students. Of the seven students present this morning, one is from El Salvador, the rest from Mexico.

Nationally, Mexicans make up 58.5 percent of the Hispanic population, and Salvadorians are the second-largest Central American group. Three of the ESL students have been in the U.S. only since January of 2000. The rest have lived here six years or longer.

Although she speaks fluent Spanish, Mangum addresses the class primarily in English, translating only when someone cannot understand a particular word.

This is how Mangum learned Spanish herself: by total immersion. As a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador, she was placed with a family whose members spoke no English and a Spanish teacher who spoke no English.

‘Put On Our English Lips’

Spanish is spoken from further back in the mouth, Mangum says. “English is very up front,” she says, telling the class as they begin reading aloud that it is time to “put on our English lips.”

Guillermina, with a ninth-grade Mexican education and limited English, struggles gamely through her paragraph. Luz Maria, who has more advanced English and attends the class with her husband and sister, helps her with some of the words.

The class is frequently stumped by homophones — words that sound the same but have different meanings, such as “would” and “wood.” The English language has over 1,500 words that sound alike but have different meanings (to, too, two).

Mangum jokes that in Spanish they have 20 words to describe one object, whereas in English we have 20 objects sharing one word.

Difficult words like “thermometer” and “temperature” are in today’s reading, which deals with the signs and treatment of heat exhaustion.

Mangum makes sure that everyone in the class — all parents — understands which Fahrenheit readings mean your child is ill and which signal an emergency. Luz Maria’s sister, Leonor, wants to know if heat stroke is what Mexicans die from while trying to cross the border. Mangum says yes, and explains about conditions in the desert. This leads to a discussion of the words “desert” and “dessert.”

Jackie, who recently passed her GED exam, works at a computer in one corner while the rest practice reading. Enrolled at Sandhills Community College for the spring semester and pregnant with her first child, Jackie has the most advanced English skills in the class. Her husband, Felipe, speaks English well but cannot read it.

Jackie’s mother left her in El Salvador in order to come work in the United States, returning to visit every three or four years while she worked on their immigration status. She brought Jackie to America at age 15, and both are now U.S. citizens.

Jackie briefly attended North Moore High School. There was no ELS class there at the time and only two or three other Hispanic students.

“It was a struggle just to get through each day,” Jackie says. She started working when her mother became ill, and she picked up some English at several textile mills. ESL classes have since sharpened her skills. She and Felipe plan to teach their baby, due in May, both English and Spanish.

Elsidra, who came to North Carolina from California, wants to get whatever she can out of the class to help her children, three of whom attend Westmoore Elementaryl.

Her desire is reflected in the four class goals: To be able to speak with Americans, read to your children, help your children with homework, and talk to a doctor. Every six months ESL instructors must complete a state evaluation on goals achieved.

Mangum doesn’t rely solely on workbooks to teach her students. In addition to grammar and vocabulary, she tries to offer information that will aid them as parents. Field trips have been organized to the post office and the library. First Bank in Seven Lakes hosted a class visit at which students were provided with packets of materials, taken out to lunch — Chinese — and taught basic banking principles.

Karen Wicker, who teaches parenting skills for the Cooperative Extension Service, visited the class in November.

Wicker, addressing the class in English, talks about encouraging your child. “Notice something your child is doing that you like,” she says. “Notice how you feel, tell your child, and notice how your child responds.”

After Wicker’s lesson, the class heads to a small kitchen, where the church allows them to store lunches and heat things up in the microwave.

Encouraged to chat in English, they talk about Jackie’s pregnancy and upcoming events. Leonor is looking forward to spending Thanksgiving at her church, the Aztec Christian Center, which is holding a joint dinner with its sister church in Vass.

Leonor says it is nice at her church to be able to speak with everyone in Spanish.

“I like to speak with Jesus,” she says. flashing a smile.

On this day, Mangum has brought a box full of extra books from Sandhills Community College. The students sort through them. Leonor chooses several for her husband, who is off applying for a job. When he and his brother have trouble locating the office that they have been referred to, they show up at the class and get directions from Mangum. Leonor helps her husband read and fill out the English forms he has brought with him.

Family Literacy includes home visits and recruitment. To reach students, she goes to the library, the post office, Mexican restaurants.

“I go up to people and say, ‘Hable Ingles? No?’” she says. If they say no, she encourages them to take a class.

“Most people don’t like to study,” Leonor says. Her teacher points out, with some concern, that it is “getting easier to get by without knowing English.”

When asked to compare Mexico with the United States, Luz Maria and Leonor complain about Mexican schools.

teacher spanked the children,” Luz Maria says.

Leonor says that after she completed 10th grade, she had to take an entrance exam to continue — for a fee equal to two weeks’ wages. She passed, but there wasn’t room for her in the next year’s class. She was told she’d have to wait another year to go back to school.

Fees are a big part of Mexican life. Elsidra was surprised when she went to have her son’s birth certificate corrected and found that there was only one fee. In Mexico, she says, there would have been fees for each official involved.

“Everybody is on the take in Mexico,” she says.

Leonor adds that you can’t trust the Mexican post office. It opens mail and takes out gifts, she says, replacing them with lesser-quality items. She complains that when Presidente Fox sent money to her state, funds meant for schools, bridges and roads ended up in the pockets of local authorities.

“Here,” Guillermina says, “the government is concerned with children and schools.”

Despite these opinions, Elsidra says she wishes to return to Mexico once her children are old enough to live on their own. Her eldest daughter has already returned to Mexico to live with her grandmother. The other students say they’d like to stay in the United States, but reveal mixed emotions.

‘No One Understands Me’

Leonor enrolled in the ESL class, she says, “because no one understands me.” She now speaks understandable English and helps others in the class. Mangum calls her “an extremely determined student.”

Asked about her family in Mexico, Leonor turns away. It takes a few moments before the others realize that she is crying. Leonor and Luz Maria have not seen their parents in three years, although they talk by phone once a week. The grandparents have never seen Luz Maria’s 20-month-old son or Leonor’s 8- month-old daughter, born in America.

“Immigration breaks families apart,” Mangum says, as the students take out their workbooks and compare where they left off.

The spring semester found Sherri Mangum teaching an ESL class of 16 in Aberdeen, where Felipe is one of her better students. Leonor called Mangum at Christmas to let her know she was working at a fast-food restaurant, where she speaks English to customers.

“Teacher, teacher!” she said. “I have a job!”

Sunday: Family stories.

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Story Source: The Pilot

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - El Salvador; TESL



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