Learn to speak a new language – Albert Lea Tribune
Although the numbers have abandoned during COVID-19 pandemic, students continue their adult English as a second language program
By Kelly Wassenberg
The rules are everywhere. It is a means of ensuring order rather than chaos. They let people know what can be expected of them in certain situations.
Unfortunately, the English language doesn’t care about rules.
“That’s what’s hard about English,” said Betsy Schroeder, an ESL teacher at the Albert Lea Area Schools Adult Education Center. “Every time the English make a rule, they break it. And that’s the hard part is that [the students] are just starting to learn a rule, then they come across something that breaks that rule.
Schroeder and his students often laugh about it.
“Why do we make rules if we break them? ” she says.
Schroeder has been an ESL teacher for 23 years and teaches advanced students ESL.
Penny Jahnke, adult education coordinator, said the program served 141 students from 16 countries covering 11 different languages - the most popular of which is Karen followed by Spanish. Students are ages 16 and up and their education levels vary widely.
Some come from countries where women are uneducated and don’t even know the alphabet. Others have degrees in their home countries, but need a better understanding of the English language to be able to use that knowledge in a career here in the United States.
Most of the students are refugees, including Rau Htoo, 38, and Shay Lay Moo, 20.
Htoo is a refugee from Myanmar, who spent 10 years in a refugee camp before coming to the United States. This is her second year of the program.
Htoo said his decision to come to the United States was based on the opportunities the country has to offer and that he was able to learn some English before immigrating to the country.
“America is a good place for refugees,” Htoo said.
Htoo is one of many who work full time in addition to coming to class to improve his understanding of English in all its forms – spoken, written and read.
Moo was born in a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border. While she received an education, English was not taught at the camp. She works in the community and learns English in hopes of getting a better job to support her family. She has been in the ESL program for five years.
It takes a lot of dedication for ESL students to stick to the curriculum.
“We have students who work 10-hour shifts and then come to school,” Jahnke said. “These students coming to the school are probably some of the hardest working and most dedicated students you can find.”
Of those currently enrolled in the program, she said 61% of students work full-time, with many of the rest staying home to raise their children while their spouses work.
Whatever their situation, the adult basic education program tries to eliminate all possible obstacles by offering them both transport and childcare assistance. Computers and mobile hotspots are also available so students can also learn at their own pace.
Classes are Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. work. Since COVID hit, Schroeder said his class attendance has dropped from 16 to at times a handful, but Jahnke said they’re working on ways to adapt. They plan to offer evening classes as part of a consortium and have worked on a highly flexible model.
“We have students sitting at home, zooming in and watching the class, while the teacher is also teaching a student sitting in front of her, and it’s been very successful,” she said.
Flexibility is important as students must log between 40 and 50 hours of classroom instruction before taking the test to advance to the next level. There are six levels in total – three in the beginner classes and three in the advanced class.
“The immigrant population contributes to Albert Lea and Freeborn County,” Jahnke said. “They occupy jobs in our production plants. They buy houses. They bring their children to our schools. I only see positive things in people who come here. They are hard working and very family oriented.
Say what? Grammar Rules/Exceptions for ESL
There are many common spelling rules that most are familiar with, but there are exceptions. Thinking about these rules, it becomes easier to imagine why a non-English speaker might have difficulty mastering the language. Here are a few.
- I before E except after C — or when the letter combination sounds A — like weigh and neighbor. There are still exceptions to this exception as the pitch EI does not ring the A.
- If C is followed by E, I, or Y, it usually gives the sound S, such as cell, circle, or cynic; but if the C is followed by an A, O, or U, it will usually sound K, such as car, cold, or cue. The same rule applies to the letter G, which sounds the J in words like gem, giant, and gymnasium, but sounds the G in words like gage, go, and guerilla. There are exceptions to these rules, including the word girl which sounds the G instead of the J.
- When two vowels walk, the first speaks, like dream, pain and peeling. Exceptions include bread, poem, and guest.
- When pluralizing a noun that ends in Y, change Y to I and add ES, like penny to pennies, the exception is if the Y is preceded by a vowel. Boy only needs an S to make it plural.
- When pluralizing a word that ends in F, the F is replaced by a V and an ES is added, like elf/elves and bread/loaves. However, if a word ends in a double FF, such as riff, only an S is needed to pluralize the word.
- VCV stands for vowel-consonant-vowel. In words like these, the second vowel is silent and causes the first vowel to say its name as in words like cake, made, and bike. Exceptions to the rule include the word lemon, derived from the French.
- Some words ending in O have an ES added to them when pluralized, but not all. For example, potato turns into potatoes, but the word photo turns into photos.
- For many words, the Y ending must be replaced by I when a suffix is added. Funny becomes funnier and ready becomes easily, but there are exceptions like shy becoming shy.
- Removing the E is a fairly consistent rule when adding suffixes for words such as writing becoming writing and meaning becoming sensible. Exceptions occur in words ending in CE or GE in which the C or G sounds remain soft as brave and noticeable.
- The pluralization of animals can be quite confusing for those who are not native to the English language.
- Deer remains deer in the plural, as do fish, sheep and moose. The mouse becomes a mouse. Beef becomes beef. The goose becomes a goose. To pluralize octopus and hippo, the words change to octopus and hippo, or you can add an es to make octopus and hippo. Either is correct.
- When nouns end in ch, sh, ss, x, or z, the letter combination of ES is used to indicate pluralization, such as ranges, wishes, or boxes. There are exceptions to this rule such as stomachs and monarchs. This exception applies when the CH emits a K sound.
- The 1-1-1 rule states that when words in a syllable ending in a single consonant immediately preceded by a single vowel, double the consonant before a suffixed vowel, such as running or jogging. This rule does not apply to words ending in V, W or X.