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No Language Barriers… Indiana Facing Language Debate…Village Is More Global, Language Is More Vital

No Language Barriers

By Lori Sykes

November 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Sometimes Enriqueta "Katie" Rodriguez can't find the right words to express herself, even in her native tongue. However, since joining a Spanish-speaking caregivers' support group at the Southwest Focal Point Senior Center, she has had a chance to open up.

"Because I'm used to speaking Spanish all the time, I can express myself much better. The words come out easier," said Rodriguez, a Pembroke Pines resident who was born in Puerto Rico. "Sometimes I can't say what I want to say either way, Spanish or English."Rodriguez, 68, has been married to her husband, Hector, for 50 years. About five years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and she has been learning how to care for him. She said the caregivers' support group has helped her understand how to deal with her husband's illness.

"When I first started going to the support group in November, [communication with my husband] was really bad. I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown," Rodriguez said. "The meeting is very, very helpful because we each have a chance to talk. I listen to others and they listen to me."

The Southwest Focal Point Senior Center, at 301 NW 103rd Ave. in Pembroke Pines, serves seniors who live in Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Weston, Davie and Cooper City. Any member of the center who is a caregiver is invited to attend meetings of the Spanish-speaking support group, which was formed in January 2001.

"It's hard to handle the situation without any help," Rodriguez said. "I was arguing with my husband, and I learned at the support group that I'm not supposed to."

The Spanish-speaking support group meets from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. the second and fourth Fridays of every month. Rodriguez said she visits the senior center once a week for both the Spanish- and English-speaking caregivers' support groups.

Rosalba Parra, the center's Alzheimer's day-care coordinator, said some members of the Spanish-speaking group do not speak English and others are bilingual. She said five to 10 people attend the meetings, which focus on how to deal with patients who have dementia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

"They feel more comfortable because of the shared culture," Parra said. "It makes them feel more comfortable speaking in their native language."

The group's assistance goes beyond having someone to listen who understands what caregivers go through. Parra said members also are kept up-to-date on new medical information, which can help them take better care of loved ones.

Indiana Facing Language Debate In Education


November 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Indianapolis News/Indianapolis Star. All rights reserved. 

Legislative action

As Indiana teachers work with a growing number of Hispanic students, they confront a controversy that divides educators across the country: How much classroom Spanish is too much?

The debate already has led some states to ban teaching in other languages, and Indiana might soon become another battleground in the dispute.

Students must master English to succeed, folks agree, but the debate rages on how much translation into Spanish is helpful, and how much is simply a crutch.

Lupita Conde, 10, is the kind of student at the heart of the issue. She spoke only Spanish when her family moved to Indiana from Mexico in 2000. Now at Coulston Elementary School in Shelbyville, she performs well in math and science. Those skills could equip her for a future high-paying position as an engineer or scientist. And Lupita aspires to improve her English.

The controversy on how best to help her do that played out in voting booths in at least two states this fall.

People in Colorado and Massachusetts voted on whether to ban bilingual education. The states chose different paths -- with Massachu setts residents declaring English to be the sole language of learning and Colorado voters keeping the door open to instruction in other languages.

The debate might soon take on that kind of high profile in Indiana, said Laura Tirado, 39, a native of Puerto Rico who lives with her husband and three sons on the Far Southside.

"It's so important that the kids learn English," she said. "But a lot of kids that come to the United States have some disadvantages at first, and it gives them a little more of an advantage if they can have both languages available to them for a while. It makes them feel more comfortable, more at home, like somebody really cares about them and understands where they come from."

Tirado's three sons, ages 13, 10 and 6, attend Our Lady of the Greenwood (Ind.) Catholic School. The oldest child was 3 when the Tirados moved to the United States, so the boys absorbed English growing up and never needed English-as-a-second-language services. That makes their mother a little envious.

"I didn't know any English," she said. "So I've been through that, too."

Today, Tirado works as an ESL aide at Greenwood Middle School.

In Shelbyville, Coulston educators offer bilingual assistance to students -- but with a goal of preparing them for English-only classrooms.

"The word bilingual gets misused," said Mark Millis, assistant superintendent of Shelbyville Schools. "We use bilingual support in pull-out programs, but all of that is to support the students' success in the regular classroom."

Other local administrators said their schools follow similar practices.

In Lawrence Township, 525 students have a primary language other than English, said Jan Newton of the township's English-to-speakers-of-other-languages (ESOL) program.

"We offer bilingual assistance," Newton said, "but we know that our primary mission is prepare students for English-only classrooms."

The same is true in Perry Township. Its ESL program started with six students in 1995. This year, 281 students receive special assistance through the program.

With the possible exception of a few districts in California, schools using bilingual education have always intended it to be a temporary method used while students increase their English proficiency, said Millis, the Shelbyville administrator.

"The state Department of Education has pretty much directed schools to pursue English immersion," he said. "But they give schools a time frame of several years to do what's appropriate for students (to keep them progressing academically in all subjects while they learn English)."

In Marion County schools, the number of Hispanic students has tripled during the past decade to more than 3,400.

Back at Coulston, Lupita Conde believes doors are open to her.

"When I came to the United States, I thought I was never going to do anything good," she said. "But I think now that I'm going to go to the big school (college) and do what I want to do when I'm older."

Village Is More Global, Language Is More Vital


October 13, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

AGNIESZKA OSSOLINSKA-JASKOWSKI didn't have work experience in the legal field. She didn't have any important contacts in the legal business. And she didn't yet have a diploma from Montclair State University in New Jersey, where she was studying to be a paralegal.

What she did have was fluency in Polish. And that was enough to get her a job at Brand, Brand & Burke, a personal-injury law firm in Manhattan.

"I thought I was at a disadvantage because I had been in the United States only for a couple of years at the time," said Mrs. Jaskowski, who is 29. "But my Polish background actually gave me an edge."

Brand, Brand & Burke, in fact, had recently begun a push to win more clients in New York's growing Polish population, and had placed an ad in Nowy Dziennik, the city's biggest-circulation Polish-language newspaper, specifying mastery of Polish as a requirement for a new position as a liaison with Poles.

Mrs. Jaskowski's familiarity with legal issues helped her candidacy, the firm says, but it was her bilingualism that clinched the job.

"A few years ago, the Polish community was underserved by the legal profession, so we decided to hire a few employees who could speak Polish," said Ronald Burke, a partner at the firm. "We were open to hiring a native speaker of English with fluency in Polish, but we preferred an immigrant who would be more sensitive to the needs of other immigrants. Agnes never worked as paralegal before, but we thought that she would rise to the occasion with on-the-job training."

In the current stumbling economy, job seekers are leveraging every qualification they can think of to sway potential employers. And with immigrants continuing to flood into New York, long the city of immigrants, and its suburbs, speaking a second language is a talent that matters in almost any field.

Take nursing. The hiring managers at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York, which employs people from 88 countries, say they consider mastery of a foreign tongue a strong plus. "The closer you get to delivery of care, the more critical is a second language," said G. Thomas Ferguson, senior vice president and chief of human resources. "A nurse who can talk to a patient in a native language is very important."

It helped Merari Sánchez-Vega get her job there three years ago. Ms. Sánchez-Vega, a registered nurse who was born in the United States but whose parents immigrated from Puerto Rico, is the only nurse of 18 on her floor who can speak Spanish. And even though most Hispanics who are admitted speak English, they feel more at ease when she talks to them in Spanish, she says. "It is their primary language, so they naturally prefer to use it rather than English," Ms. Sánchez-Vega said.

In New York, real estate is another field in which it helps to have multilinguists on the payroll, especially at firms active in neighborhoods with large ethnic populations.

"I'm hiring from different language groups because we are serving customers of many nationalities who sometimes can't speak English," said John Ma, president and owner of Century 21 Milestone in Jamaica, Queens. The 62 agents at his firm speak a host of languages that include Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Urdu and Italian, he says.

Mr. Ma, who himself immigrated from Hong Kong, said many of his customers were newcomers to America who spoke little or no English. About a month ago, a Hispanic couple came to his office, and though they couldn't understand English, kept repeating the phrase, "We want sell home."

"I looked around, but it was late in the day and everyone was in the field," Mr. Ma said. He ended up paging one of his Spanish-speaking agents and summoning him to the office.

In the global economy, American companies increasingly are realizing the benefits of a multilingual work force. Mark Levit, a managing partner at Partners & Levit, a Manhattan advertising agency, says that while the firm has overseas clients and creates ads aimed at specific ethnic groups in the United States, his only requirement for hiring a bookkeeper used to be accounting skills.

Then, one day, his bookkeeper, a Russian woman, told him that in her view a Russian translation that she had seen of a Partners & Levit brochure was better than the original. That and other incidents, he says, convinced him that a familiarity with a foreign tongue would be an asset in any employee. "In the future, we are planning to make a second language a hiring criterion because we realized that it is so useful," Mr. Levit said.

Mrs. Jaskowski, who immigrated to the United States in 1997 and started as a teacher of Polish at a weekend school in New Jersey, got the job at Brand, Brand & Burke two and a half years ago. Her knowledge of the law was increasing but still deficient, she said, and her new employer started her off slowly, letting her pick up her new duties at her own pace.

"They spent a lot of time just showing me how to do things," she said. "At first, my job was sort of like an extension of school."

Early on, the pay was low, but the fact that she was gaining experience at a personal-injury law firm at a time when some of her classmates in the paralegal certification program at Montclair had not yet started looking for a job was more important to her than money.

During the first few months, she acted more as an intermediary for the lawyers in the office and their Polish-speaking clients than a full-fledged paralegal. Her tasks included informing Polish clients about the status of their cases and translating documents. She even went along with some clients to the doctor's office, serving as a translator.

After a year, however, Mrs. Jaskowski's job started gaining new dimensions. Although her main focus remains working with Polish clients, her additional tasks, like making drafts of legal papers, require a greater understanding of the legal system. Mrs. Jaskowski is also responsible for deciding whether a case is good enough for the firm to pursue — and that means she has to make trips to accident sites. "It takes some patience to do this work when I have a crowd of people staring at me and wondering who I am and why I do it," she said.

There is other work, too. Mrs. Jaskowski arranges advertising in Polish media and attends events sponsored by her firm in Polish neighborhoods. When the residents see her in a business suit, she says, "It makes them rethink the image of a typical Polish nanny and a construction worker."

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