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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Ana Sanchez: A Way With Words

By Lourdes Rodriguez-Florido

October 27, 2002
Copyright © 2002 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

She knows what it's like to feel embarrassed about mispronouncing or misusing words.

She knows what it's like to see others react to English that is spoken with a thick foreign accent.

She knows what it's like to be an adult struggling to learn a new language in a new land.

For all these reasons and more, Ana Sanchez of Hollywood has spent the past six years teaching English to immigrants who call South Florida home.

Sanchez teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages, otherwise known as ESOL, at Hispanic Unity of Florida in Hollywood.

"I know how they feel," said Sanchez of her students. "I know what it's like to go through the process."

Sanchez is one of hundreds of Broward County teachers who work in adult community schools, social service centers and churches on the front line of an important effort -- teaching English to immigrants.

"We're helping people who are new to our country and helping them with language, which in turn helps them with work skills and finding jobs," said Robert Schmohl, administrator of the Hollywood Hills and South Broward community schools.

The Broward County School District's ESOL program is offered at 21 community schools throughout the county and at several off-campus sites, including Hispanic Unity.

"The growth is very evident every year, and there's a tremendous need for more classes," said Ron Caddy, the administrator of Crystal Lake Community School near Pompano Beach. "More so up here because of where we're located. We probably have the highest concentration of non-English speaking immigrants in the county."

During the 2001-02 school year, about 2,200 students took classes at the community school and its off-site center at nearby Park Ridge Elementary School, Caddy said.

Most of the students were Portuguese, Spanish or Creole speakers.

The ESOL program throughout the county offers classes during the day, night and on Saturdays, depending on the site. The annual fee for each student is $8 for tuition and $5 for testing.

"We're here to make the adults productive citizens," Schmohl said.

Sanchez's own ESOL journey began when she was 17 and moved from Puerto Rico to New York.

Her dream was to become an English teacher, but to make that dream a reality she had to first tackle the very difficult job of becoming fluent in English. So while enrolled in education courses she took English classes. Her biggest obstacle, she said, was to get past the shyness of speaking the language.

"I found a way to get past my shyness," she recently told some of her students. "It's to take a job that forces you to speak English. And where I got that chance was at McDonald's -- for five years. That helped me."

Each year, about 500 people go through the ESOL program at Hispanic Unity, a nonprofit organization that offers to immigrants such social services as residency and citizenship information, help with job placements and health services.

"It's a very successful program," said Bradley M. Linn, the ESOL administrator at Hispanic Unity.

ESOL students come from all walks of life. They are professionals, such as lawyers and engineers, and they are housewives and students. They all have one thing in common -- a hope that through language they can improve their chances at success in the United States.

At Hispanic Unity, the classes offer basic grammar exercises, conversation practices and role-playing activities. During a recent class, students participated in a role-playing exercise, pretending to be sales clerks, while others pretended to be shoppers.

Lessons that emphasize real-life activities are especially important for the students, Sanchez said.

"This really helps me," said Ruth Diaz, 33, a lawyer who moved to the United States from Colombia last year. "These classes are really good," she said. "You work on vocabulary and learn how to speak correctly."

Diaz said she wants to improve her English pronunciation enough to begin working as a paralegal.

Luz Elena Aponte, 41, also of Colombia, said her main motivation to learn is her husband, Alberto, who is American. "I tell him let's practice and we do," she said.

Whatever their motivation, Sanchez said all of her students are a source of inspiration, and prove that most foreign-language immigrants do want to learn America's native tongue.

"It amazes me the sacrifices that they make to come to the classroom," she said. "They know that in order to reach their goals learning English is a priority."

To learn more about the ESOL classes at Hispanic Unity, call 954-964-8884.

Every Sunday, the Community News sections offer a package of immigration information with a question-and-answer column and a list of telephone numbers. Some weeks, other features such as "My Story, A New Life" or "A Helping Hand" are included. Components can be read online at

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