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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

January 12, 2009 at 4:00 PM

State education cuts

Immigrant students suffer

I am an ESL teacher at Renton Technical College. I realize we are currently in a state of crisis because of the grim economic situation, but I hope that there are no further cuts to the already deeply cut basic-studies departments of local colleges. It is in these departments that the local immigrant population is working hard to better their skills in order to become productive, active members of our community.

In the last 20 years, I have taught in various college classrooms. The ESL students at Renton Technical College are the most earnest, enthusiastic students I have ever worked with. If you wonder how important these courses are to them, please consider the fact that they are taking the three-hour classes for no credit, at the beginning or end of a long workday, without recognition.

Most people don’t realize how difficult the English language is. Someone’s accent stands out to us more than the fact that they have just strung together a coherent sentence. A missing “the,” “a” or “r” that sounds like an “l” makes us think the speaker doesn’t speak English well.

We don’t often think about what it took to get to this point: overcoming differences in our pronunciation and the pronunciation of other languages, difficult article usage, sentence structure and a myriad of idioms speakers must learn.

For the many immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as adults, language mastery is that much harder. And for almost all of them, it must be tackled “after hours.”

Already, both the short-term and long-term effects of these cuts will be felt in the community and work force for years to come. Immigrants of all backgrounds will be forced to work in jobs below their capacity, important bridge-building and communication skills will decrease, and the multicultural world we live in will become even more factionalized.

I realize decisions are extremely difficult now. But in the current economic climate, classes in the basic-studies department should be growing, not decreasing. These classes teach the skills that are the basis for building a competent, vibrant work force.

You probably talk to or buy something that is made by an immigrant nearly every day. The benefits of ESL are far-reaching and affect virtually every person living in this area and beyond.

— Elizabeth Falconer, Renton Technical College

Comments | More in Education, Washington Legislature

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