Education Feature: Classes bridge language barrier

English as a Second Language instructor Stefanie Jose, right, teaches Susana Loya at Clovis Community College, where more than 400 students are enrolled in the classes. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Interpreting is a way of life for Isabel Villarreal.

Born in the United States to Mexican immigrants, the 17-year-old speaks English and Spanish fluently.

“I learned English from watching shows like Sesame Street on television when I was little,” she said. “I learned Spanish at home from my mother.”

She accompanies her mother, Juanita Villarreal, to the grocery store, the doctor and anywhere else she is needed to decipher the English language for her Spanish-speaking mother.

“Although our family has lived here (United States) for over 20 years,” Isabel said, “my mother has never gotten comfortable speaking English and she can’t read it at all.”

The Villarreal family’s situation is not uncommon. Curry County’s population is 33 percent Hispanic, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Clovis Community College is offering free classes to help Spanish-speaking adults learn basic English.

In 2001, 127 students were enrolled in English as a Second Language Classes at CCC, according to Mona Lee Norman-Armstrong, director of Adult Basic Education at the college. Enrollment grew to 184 in 2005, and more than 400 students are enrolled today, Norman-Armstrong said.

The ESL classes are funded through state and federal grants, Norman-Armstrong said.

The beginner ESL class focuses on day-to-day vocabulary.

“They learn how to call a doctor, how to go to the grocery store and how to call in a child’s absence to school,” Norman-Armstrong said. The intermediate classes teach reading and writing and American customs.

“The classes are extremely interactive,” Norman-Armstrong said. “They (teachers) give them (ESL students) relevant material for today.”

The advanced classes focus on formal English instruction — including giving presentations, taking notes and developing paragraphs. Class hours are similar to other classes offered by the college and take 18 months to complete.

“This is a wonderful program,” Norman-Armstrong said, “and it serves as a bridge to college.”