The Woodward News

Features

July 13, 2014

ESL classes continue to grow

Woodward, Okla. — When Cambodian born Kuneth Ly (pronounced Lee) came to live in Oklahoma with her American born husband, she didn’t know any English at all and she certainly never thought she would wind up living in Woodward as a business owner.

Now, the co-owner of Daylight Donuts speaks to customers easily and enjoys her life making people happy with the confections she creates in the shop and her friendly conversation as she takes their orders.

Kuneth is like many other local individuals every year here in Woodward, Harper and Ellis counties who seek to better their lives and fit into their chosen home by learning the language.

“When I came I couldn’t even talk very well with my husband,” she said. Her husband, while he too was Cambodian by lineage, had been raised in America. Fortunately he knew some Khmer, the language spoken in Cambodia.

Kuneth got the freedom and promise that comes with learning English as a second language by taking free courses offered by the Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council based in Woodward.  

The totally free service has been a quiet little fixture in the region since 1988 when the organization opened at the Woodward Library where it is still housed today.  At that time it only covered Woodward County and offered tutoring services and classes to teach English literacy to adults or anyone who had fallen behind or had never really learned to read and write English. Back then, that included a number of American born individuals as well as many people from numerous other countries, NWOKLC Director Maria Rodriguez Cabrales said.  

Under the umbrella of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, the organization grew to also include Harper and Ellis Counties and serves the region by helping anyone from any background whatsoever, learn to read and write English, said ESL instructor Mauren Mora.

Mora, who came to the United Stated 18 years ago, received her English education through the literacy council by working one-on-one with former English language instructor Wanda Luthi. Luthi, now retired, lives in Fargo, according to Mora. But her contribution lives on in the countless hours that Mora dedicates to the people of Woodward teaching them to change their lives and become educated in how to speak, read and write English.

For Mora, the memory of Luthi’s dedication, making that drive into Woodward from Fargo as a volunteer, often more than twice a week just to teach her to read and write the English language, is emotional for the now veteran ESL instructor and community volunteer.

“She is a super special woman,” Mora said.

Mora said it was through Luthi she learned just how important it was to learn the language here and become a community volunteer.

Now Mora is an English instructor at High Plains Technology Center as well as a teacher for the Northwest Literacy Council. She also performs translation services for numerous organizations in the Woodward region.

“So see, I do not promote this program only because I work for it, I am also a product of this program,” she said.

This year, there are already more than 80 students who have signed up for all three levels of English as a Second Language courses, Mora said.

According to Mora, the importance of being able to speak English in this job market is evident in how dedicated people, who come to the courses, are about attending.

“These people are coming in after their eight hours of work and spending two hours twice a week to do this,” Mora said. “That should tell you how important it is to be able to speak English and communicate in good English.”

That is exactly what drew 42-year-old Adriana Castillo to the library one day this time last year and got her interested in the class.

Castillo only just came to America about a year ago. With literally no understanding of even one word of English, she moved with her husband, who works in the oilfield and found herself unable to even count change that was given back to her when she purchased something.

“A friend invited me to come to class one day,” Castillo said. “I heard a presentation and then we learned the English alphabet.”

That was all it took for Castillo. For her, it was an open door to a new way to live in America.

When the couple first immigrated with their two children there were days that Castillo was so lonely she just wanted to go back to her mother country where she understood the language.

Now that has all changed.

As Castillo’s confidence with English increases, she even dares to dream.

 “I would really like to work in (interior) decorating,” she said, carefully measuring each word she used and had learned through her English class.

Only a year into her English training, Castillo is remarkable in her ability to write the language and understand it.

When she learned she would be interviewed about her experience taking the courses offered by the NWOKLC, she got a pen and wrote her statements in neat and tiny penmanship, but most notably in English.

“Mrs. Mora is an excellent teacher. I am happy to have taken the English class last year. For me it is very important to have communication in English with people. I want to learn more to speak and write. The program is a good opportunity for this community," she wrote.

The Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council is supported by some minimal funding through United Way grants as well as a small stipend the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. It gets the rest of its funding from private donations and fundraising efforts on the behalf of the board, according to Rodriguez Cabrales.

But perhaps the most important form of donation the program depends on is the donation of time, Rodriguez Cabrales said. At present, with a growing number of local people signing up for the classes and needing  tutors, there is a need for volunteers to spend time one-on-one tutoring these students in English as well as a need for people who would like to teach a class, she said.

“I always have people tell me that they can’t tutor someone because they only know English and can’t speak Spanish or any other language,” Rodriguez Cabrales said. “You don’t need to know Spanish to teach someone to speak English. We learn to speak English by speaking English.”

For those who would like to sign up for courses or volunteer, call 580-254-8582.

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