Blazing a Multilingual Trail
Find your voice with ESOL
When Fahmo Sulieman ventured to the United States in 1998, she was leaving behind life in Mogadishu, Somalia, one of the most dangerous cities on Earth. Fahmo spoke fluent Somali, of course, and a smattering of British English she had learned in high school, but she wasn’t conversant enough with American English to make headway in the work world or advance her education.
Now 36 and the single mother of two boys, Hanad, 6, and Mahad, 2, Fahmo got interested in improving her English language skills when her oldest son began bringing home schoolwork and asking her for help.
“I remember my parents helping me with my homework,” she said. “I couldn’t read or understand English well enough to help my son so I knew that I needed go back to school. Now that my children are reaching school age, it’s my turn to help.”
One of Fahmo’s first experiences at DCTC came when she took the ACCUPLACEREnglish Language Learner test, which determines the English proficiency of incoming students and may point them to the English for Speakers of Other Languagesprogram, better known as ESOL.
As it turned out, Fahmo proved to be a high beginner at English and was directed to take two semesters of ESOL. Low intermediate students usually take only one semester of the program, which is designed to give students the English skills they need to succeed in both higher education and the American workplace
Claudia Rose, a developmental education instructor at DCTC, is Fahmo’s ESOL teacher. With 14 years of experience with the program, Claudia realizes how important English skills are for students who are not native speakers of the language. She noted that for many of her students English is their third or even fourth language. Fahmo herself understands Arabic, both written and spoken.
“We have three different classes that specifically target areas where ESOL students need to develop the skills necessary for school and the workforce,” Claudia said. “We hold classes four days a week with Fridays off. For students who take all three classes, it’s a very intensive program.”
The three four-credit courses ESOL students take are 1) Listening and Speaking, 2) Reading, and 3) Writing and Grammar, the latter taking students to computer labs where they can enhance their PC and word processing skills. The courses are taught at two different levels, depending on whether the student is taking one or two semesters of ESOL. Another advantage the program offers is free textbooks.
“I couldn’t read or understand English well enough to help my son so I knew that I needed go back to school. Now that my children are reaching school age, it’s my turn to help.”
Xuong Tran, a multicultural student recruiter and advisor at DCTC, was one of the first people Fahmo Sulieman met at the college. Xuong emigrated from Vietnam as a small child and understands the problems faced by individuals working to overcome language barriers.
“ESOL is the foundation for everything else that nonnative English-speaking students will encounter and learn during college and on the job,” he said. “Our ESOL program is taught at a pace that really lets students absorb the language and become very proficient at speaking, listening to and writing English.”
Fahmo, whose name means “understanding,” agrees wholeheartedly. Her face lights up when she talks about the program and how it has helped her pursue her dream of becoming an elementary schoolteacher.
“We have so many people in our immigrant communities who could benefit from ESOL,” she said. “I want to invite everyone—especially the women—to enroll in college and take ESOL courses because becoming fluent in English is one of the best things they can do to help themselves and their families.”