Originally created 08/24/02

Class helps many find new voice



For some immigrants, entering the United States is easy compared with crossing the language barrier.

Using a telephone, talking to a doctor or describing an item to a store clerk can be nearly impossible for someone who cannot speak English, said Nancy Brant, who coordinates conversational English classes at First Baptist Church of Augusta.

First Baptist and other sites offer classes to internationals - migrant workers, medical researchers, business owners, military wives and refugees - who want to learn English or brush up on their skills.

First Baptist expects about 200 students to enroll this year for its weekly morning and evening classes. Registration is 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, with the fall session starting Wednesday, Sept. 4. Course fees, including materials, typically are $15 or less.

St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Augusta started offering English as a second language about two years ago. A new class will open 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3. About 30 students attended last year, with about 15 regulars.

"We saw a need in our community," said Dr. Magali A.M. Duignan, a coordinator and assistant professor of English at Augusta State University. "We are helping people get acquainted with the community and feel welcome."

The church is adding a second class at 9 a.m. Saturdays, starting Sept. 14, to prepare people who want to become naturalized citizens. Like the conversational English class, the new course is free to anyone, but students must register for it by Friday.

Students can register for the conversational English class on opening day.

Religious education is not part of the instruction, but offering classes is an expression of the Catholic value of service, said Mary Chapin, parochial assistant. The teachers "see it as a ministry because they are volunteering their time and talent."

Classes are open to anyone and presented in an atmosphere of friendship, equal participation and respect - all values St. Teresa hopes to instill, Dr. Duignan said. "The main goal is to enable students to integrate into American society and, particularly, into our community."

Augusta Technical College offers classes all year round at its South Augusta campus and satellite locations, such as St. Joseph Catholic Church in south Augusta and Reheboth Ministries in Grovetown.

Teachers, instruction and materials are provided by the state of Georgia through its adult literacy program, but fees are required to take certification tests, such as the General Educational Development diploma, said Howie Gunby, director of adult literacy.

First Baptist opened its program in 1975 when wives of Japanese executives in the Augusta area wanted help with their language skills.

The majority of students are Chinese or Korean, though 41 countries were represented last year. "That just blows me away every time I calculate it," said Mrs. Brant, who first volunteered with the program about nine years ago.

When students are new, they often are not new to the United States - they have been in the country for years but manage to navigate without English, she said. "Their coping skills amaze me."

Immigrants shop at ethnic stores and rely on relatives or countrymen to find what they need until something - such as grown children moving away - makes them realize they need to learn English, she said.

Otherwise "it can be very lonely for them. That is what we are hoping to help them overcome."

Generally, if students are steady in attendance and apply themselves, they can benefit from classes, Mrs. Brant said.

But not all - some people wait too late in life to start, she said. "We can't meet everybody's needs."

Once enrolled, some internationals continue attending for decades. "We have one lady who has been coming since 1982. She has gone through every class," Mrs. Brant said.

Another group of Japanese women come every Wednesday for class, leave for lunch, then return in the afternoon for crafts at the church. "It gets to be a support system."

Registration for conversational English will be 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church, 3500 Walton Way.

For more information, call 733-2236 or visit the church at www.fbcaugusta.org.

English as a Second Language classes are offered at Augusta Technical College and three satellite locations.

The sites are:

  • St. Joseph Catholic Church, 2607 Lumpkin Road. It holds beginner, intermediate and advance classes from 9 a.m. to noon and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students can study for an English proficiency certification, called the Test of English as a Foreign Language, from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays year-round. They can also prepare for the citizenship test in the English Literacy Program Civics Education class 9 a.m. to noon and 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays at Fort Gordon.
  • Reheboth Ministries, 5135 Wrightsboro Road, Lot A2, in Grovetown, with sessions meeting 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays year-round.
  • Thomson Human Development Center, 810 White Oak Road in Thomson, from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays year-round.
  • For more information, call 771-4131.

    Registration is open for free conversational English and naturalized citizen test courses at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, 117 Pleasant Home Road. Conversational English is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesdays, starting Sept. 3. A citizenship class will be held at 9 a.m. Saturdays, starting Sept. 14. Students can enroll in the conversational English class on opening day but must register for the citizenship class by Friday.

    For more information, call 863-4956.

    Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.