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What I’ve Learned About ESL in Philadelphia

ESL Classes in Philadelphia

In a previous posting I mentioned that clearly one of the principal needs of any person first entering the United States is the need to develop his or her skills in English, to the point of being able to live comfortably in an English environment. I also mentioned that while there have been laudable efforts to meet this need in Philadelphia, there is still much work to be done. Allow me to examine this problem more closely and provide some context for why I consider it so pressing.

I am a certified teacher of English as a Second Language, and have worked in a private language center in Philadelphia as well as through various tutoring agencies. Language and language instruction is deeply important to me, not only because it is my field of study, but because, as I also noted previously, I am the child of an immigrant family. I have seen extensively how indispensable the component of language is to everyone’s daily life, as while the majority may take it for granted, displacement is the most effective way of illuminating how frustrating and painstaking life becomes when communication is encumbered.

In light of this fundamental necessity, I feel responsible to alert our readership to the terrain yet to be covered in the area of English education.

In my view, one of the foremost challenges is that the major part of English instruction for foreigners is available to foreign students receiving formal education, such as at the university level; the average working immigrant family must fend for itself. The facilities that remain are privately funded institutions which often suffer from a desperate lack of organization and/or resources. The class schedule and curriculum is not clearly defined, the materials provided are inadequate, and the administration does not have the means to convince the students to attend with consistency.

Further, I have found that the vast majority of these establishments are to be found in the farthest reaches of metropolitan Philadelphia, with many students traveling significant distances and being prevented from attending by their work schedules, the weather, and other circumstances. The opportunities in Center City remain scarce.

In many cases what I have seen is that in lieu of the proper avenues for instruction, people insulate themselves in an environment of their original language, working and circulating in their own immigrant community rather than taking the first step toward assimilation. Undoubtedly, the task of learning a new language is ostensibly daunting for anyone, let alone for someone who is cast into an ocean of that language and asked to float; it is the instinct of any normal person to grab hold of something familiar. The answer to this reticence is to show the people in need that there is a strong base of support at their disposal.

The most notable response to this need has been made by the Center for Literacy in collaboration with the Philadelphia Free Library. The accessibility of these classes is key, as they are conducted in nine different library branches in all corners of the city, including Independence Branch in Center City. No doubt, spreading the word about this program would contribute positively to its expansion, and that would bode very well for the city’s ever-expanding immigrant population.

If this example is not followed, and further, better opportunities to receive ESL instruction in Philadelphia are not created, the city risks holding itself back in many ways, as its incoming members are hindered from contributing to its workforce, economy, and culture. The paucities of education and the ones moving to fill them may be regarded as a call to action. Let Philadelphians take heed.

By Bessam Idani

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