English proficiency is the single most important self-help device for refugee women in the United States, according to numerous studies. Studies further show that across the spectrum of immigrants and refugees, more women than men are unable to speak any English, have fewer prospects for jobs outside a sheltered “immigrant enclave,” and are more likely to stay sheltered away from the broader community for the lack of English proficiency.
English proficiency is just the start of what Women of the World (WoW) hopes will be a lifetime of learning. WoW helps women refugees to begin their education or continue their profession by obtaining the correct licenses in America. For many of our women clients, the opportunity to get an education is the first time they have stepped out on their own and learned in the humanities, arts, health, or engineering. We work to improve the individual educational needs of each of our clients.
Our volunteers make their biggest difference with recent refugees in the education program. When a volunteer tutors in English, they give women a voice, the voice to communicate to their children, the ability to advocate for themselves in healthcare, and help in becoming part of their community. As women develop their skills, they become more self-confident, able to improve in their parenting and to step into the community to find a job. Women of the World also will teach them to give back, to use this newfound self-esteem to step into a more active role in the community and help others. In this way education comes full circle back to service and teaching.
Women of the World has started tutoring some in its community in English! We are happy to have partners from the BYU Students for International Development group making the long trek to Salt Lake City to volunteer as tutors and Professor Joan Dixon and Education Coordinator Ruth Arevalo developing the experiential curriculum.
Differentiation of English Language Learner Program
The English Language Learning program offered by Women of the World is different from others offered to Salt Lake City refugees…
- Small group seating that fosters social relationships with little instructor lecturing
- Students talking about situations where they used English in real life as opposed to grammar lessons
- Walls covered with the levels of English proficiency that the class developed and the roles where they will use English.
Each discussion will foster the learners taking responsibility for their own learning, developing their own materials including a dictionary built based on subject/situation not the arbitrary alphabet, and doing most of the talking, expressing and being facilitated to learn the English “they wished they’d had” in daily situations of the past week.
Another difference, important for funders, is that the results enabled by the course are not the traditional “teach to the test” but are based on the National Institute for Literacy’s Equipped for the Future (EFF) Standards. From the twice weekly, two-hour sessions, the Women of the World ELL students will define how different levels of learners progress in the below EFF standards and will then be measured on their own scale and their progress reported.
- Access needed information.
- Take independent action.
- Express their own ideas and opinions.
- Keep up with a changing world.
- Exercise their rights and responsibilities as family members, workers, and community members
One example of this from a class taught by Professor Dixon, defined a level 1 learner as “Name and greeting” while a level 2 learner was a “secret English speaker” – the difference being that a level 2 learner could communicate but the broken nature of their communication kept them from speaking. A progression through levels in each of the three roles will be the reported results for each learner. Women of the World expects an average of 1.5 level progression for each 40-class semester.
Salt Lake County Need for Refugee ELL Class
In closing, Women of the World would like to convey the excitement and need the community has expressed for this ELL program. Women who have some English skills express their concern over how their medical interpreter seems to not get all the right information communicated, women who have no English skills get more distant from their English-speaking teens and the whole community suffers, and a family without a second income suffers or is stuck on social assistance. While an improving English language learner targeting education can be measured with a test, because of the broad reach of a woman’s role in society, her literacy must improve in the laboratory of life, the classroom of the community.
Impact in Education
According to the Utah Refugee Service Office’s 2010 data, refugee resettlement has increased an average of 25 percent for each of the last three years. According to the Director of Utah’s Refugee Services Office, Gerald Brown, there are approximately 25,000 refugees in Utah, 12,000 are children, and 7,000 are adult women.
Women of the World’s client files include 57 families with the majority of the matriarchs in these families having Limited English Proficiency or no English skills. These women have actively sought out Women of the World for their casework needs and are committed to their personal development. The distinguishing characteristics that support their need for an English Language Learner (ELL) program, independent of other programs and isolated from other communities, include:
- First, refugee women are primarily isolated in the home. This significantly decreases their access to English education and a support network.
- Second, no programs exist in the Salt Lake City region that actively recruits refugee women to leave their homes and to engage their communities in productive ways, supported with provided childcare, English classes, and job skills. The act of learning together will bolster community and will fuel the growth of strong support networks.
- Third, the development of a population of refugee women educated in English will reduce program costs for interpreters as a service-ethic is reproduced in women who want to give back to newer refugees during healthcare, childcare/education, or in advocacy situations.
- Fourth, by using daytime ELL classes with childcare as the fundamental social network for new refugees, a multiethnic group of women can develop language, job, and entrepreneurial skills while supporting one another, free of ethnic community bias (i.e. Sunni versus Shi’a or Tutsi versus Hutu), that has been seen as a hurdle in the past.