Innovative Language Learning Center In The US
Wayne Parks is a veteran firefighter from Fairfield, Connecticut…but not a typical one. Why? He recently segued into running a non-profit language learning center, primarily because he noticed that in his original field of work – construction – there was a dearth of qualified native English speaking workers but an abundance of qualified workers who don’t yet speak the language. And these non-English speaking workers frequently end up being taken advantage of specifically because of that.
“Where a native English speaker might know and demand his or her rights, Parks has seen immigrants with little or no command of the English language work far more hours and under much worse conditions than is customary.” This of course makes it hard to get ahead; as most people realize, learning English in the US tends to make your life easier and in many ways better.
The idea of Parks’ Quick Start Language Center is simple: a room full of computers loaded with language learning programs (for various languages, not just English). It is on a bus line, it is open nights and weekends, and no appointment is required, which means it is super-accessible to most interested language learners. Parks reports that about three dozen people are regulars on a weekly basis.
It costs him approximately $5000 per month to run, and he is hoping to find a grant writer and perhaps some additional volunteers in the near future – right now his children, one 15 and one 19, help out. The reasons he gives for doing it? The users are grateful and reap obvious benefits in their day to day lives, and more importantly, “Communication is key,” he said. “If we’re not communicating, we’re not resolving anything.”
From the perspective of an employer in the field of, say, construction, there may be disadvantages to employees learning English – if it means they can speak up for themselves or find better work! However, the benefits are obvious too: employees who can communicate with each other and with supervisors are more productive, and (according to this article) English language ability seems to be the one factor holding many qualified people back from jobs which need to be filled.
It would seem that an investment such as this – and for a single employer or company which could potentially assist a large number of people – the financial investment of a language center would pale in comparison to the financial benefit of having qualified employees who speak English. It will be interesting to see if this ever becomes a practical reality and, instead of passing laws, communities decide to take positive action to make English language learning opportunities more widely available.