Pierce College serves its students in a variety of ways. Some come for professional training. Others are on their way to bachelor’s or graduate degrees. And some students come to learn English.
The English as a Second Language department serves non-native English speakers who want to gain the skills and other knowledge they need to succeed in the U.S.
Many are recent immigrants, or grew up speaking little English with their family and friends. Difficulty with English can cause a great deal of anxiety, and prevent students from pursuing an education or building the personal networks they need to find good jobs and be active in their community.
“Students are driven to register for ESL because they realize that they can’t support their families or get the kind of meaningful job that they are capable of, with limited English,” ESL Instructor Naomi Krant said. “Some of them are mothers whose children have entered school, freeing them to enter the workforce, and some are men who are working in the construction trades or food service trades and who want something better. But it’s difficult to generalize because they are a really diverse group.”
ESL student Jesús Boites attends Pierce to improve his English writing and speaking skills.
“I’m trying to get my GED,” said Boites, who was apprehensive about registering.
“I didn’t know if it was gonna be hard or easy,” Boites said, “but it’s good and interesting. Better than I thought.”
Learning English as an adult can be a challenging and confusing undertaking. ESL students are grouped into levels according to proficiency.
Student Kyung Sap Oh found the initial learning curve a little intimidating.
“It’s not easy,” Sap Oh said. “Maybe for level 5-6 students it is, but for level 1-2, 3-4 students, it’s a bit hard.”
ESL instructors don’t just teach English. Students can get assistance with transferring foreign professional or academic credentials, preparing for the GED and college, and gaining workplace skills.
The Conversation Partners program pairs ESL students with native English speakers from the Pierce community for weekly conversational English practice.
“The native English-speakers get a friend from another country, learn a lot about another culture and have the rewarding experience of helping someone learn a vital skill—fluency in English,” Krant said. “The ESL students get to practice English and get to know someone outside their usual circle of family and friends who speaks their native language.”
ESL Instructor Susannah Barr encourages her students to use English to talk about their lives and discusses strategies for coping with stress and managing work, school and family life—knowledge any student could use.
ESL staff members also encourage their students to share and celebrate their own unique heritage.
Students currently are rehearsing for the department-sponsored multicultural fair starting at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 8 in the AAH theater.
The event will feature students wearing traditional clothing, singing, dancing and telling stories that highlight their unique cultural background.
“It’s an opportunity for students to show off their original cultures and appreciate each others’ cultures. It’s really a big celebration,” Krant said.
Boites is grateful for the chance to use his new skills.
“When we have events, it’s a good way to practice (using English),” he said, “and it’s good for me to know about other cultures.”
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