Enrollment booming in English classes

After moving to the United States five years ago to be with her family, Greenwood resident Yvonne Li did not know much English.

Li was working as a kindergarten teacher in China when the rest of her family, including her mother and sister, decided to move to Indiana.

So Li decided to move, too, even though she didn’t know the language.

Now, she is joining hundreds of others — hailing from Turkey, Peru, Greece, Myanmar, Peru, Mexico or India — looking to improve their skills in a twice-a-week language class at Central Nine Career Center.

During the past 10 years, English as a second language classes have become more popular in Johnson County, with classes at Central Nine Career Center and Johnson County Public Library. Almost 1,300 residents have reached out to the two organizations so they can write, speak and understand the English language better.

Last year, Johnson County Public Library had about 635 people looking for English classes. But this year, that number is up to 760, said library adult learning center coordinator Wendy Preilis. The library offers classes where students learn about American culture, grammar or pronunciation, and others that focus on conversation, Preilis said.

Students can come to class as often as they want — from once or twice a week to once a month — whenever they have time, Preilis said.

Preilis attributes the growth of the program to students telling others about it. Many students will come to a class then ask if they can bring a friend. Up until last month, Preilis had a waiting list started for students who wanted to get in a class, but she didn’t have any room for. To address the wait list, she created a basic English language course to help residents work through paperwork from schools or the doctor’s office, which can be troublesome if they don’t understand the language.

Students who start in the English as a second language classes at Central Nine typically make their way to high school equivalency courses, according to Central Nine Career Center adult basic education director Ruth Olson.

But Olson said she noticed that even after students felt comfortable enough to speak and write English, they would drop out of high school equivalency courses almost immediately. The classes were too overwhelming, she said.

So last year, she formed seven transitional courses for students. Students can stay with others who may not be fluent in English without becoming overwhelmed by the pace of the other students who read and speak English well.

Li signed up for English classes through the Central Nine Career Center after learning about them from a co-worker at a restaurant. She and has noticed herself understanding more English after being in the program less than a year.

“I needed to improve my English,” Li said. “I knew they had a class in downtown (Indianapolis), but it was too far away.”

Since coming to the class, Li has improved in conversational English — although reading is still tricky, she said. Her daughter will sometimes help her with her English words, Li said.

“Sometimes I think, ‘It’s too late for school,’” Li said. “But I work hard because I don’t have time to waste. I’m so excited. It’s not too late.”

Greenwood resident Nily Sui, who is originally from Myanmar, moved to Indiana three years ago. She has a daughter who is in kindergarten, but sometimes her daughter will say English words that Sui doesn’t recognize. So she’ll get the dictionary to try and learn or understand the word better, she said.

“Sometimes, she talks to me in English speak, and I don’t understand her,” Sui said.

Greenwood resident Mariana Lasavu has two sons who she said are better than her at speaking English. Her sons, 11 and 10, were born in the U.S. They will speak English to one another, though Lasavu typically only speaks in her native Greek at home.

“My life now is here. I need (to speak English),” Lasavu said.