Delgado A-Z: ESL Program, A Global Learning Community

By: Dee Shedrick
Escaping imprisonment camps by boat, Vietnamese refugees (also considered boat people) were given political asylum after staying in American refugee camps in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. More than 30 years ago, Vietnamese immigrants settled in many different cities in the United States and a number of them found their way to New Orleans and made it their home. As a result, Delgado Community College began to increase the number of English courses offered to non-native speakers in 1969. Because of the continued demand for classes, it officially started its English as a Second Language program in 1978. Delgado was the "pioneer" ESL program in the New Orleans area with 460 students currently enrolled and 46 nationalities represented. In the past, Vietnamese students comprised the highest percentage of enrollment in the ESL program, but today, the baton has been passed on to the Hispanic community.

    Students enroll in the ESL program for many reasons, but the main reason is to improve or learn English. Some students enroll because they want a chance to get better jobs, so brushing up on their communication skills will help them to be more marketable professionally, while others just want to develop better conversational skills. However, many have academic goals of obtaining an associate degree from Delgado or transferring to a four-year college to obtain a bachelor's degree in pursuit of a new career. Regardless of their individual goals, students must successfully complete studies in four categories: conversation, composition, grammar and reading. Before students get started, they must take a placement test to determine the level of coursework they will be given based on their needs from beginning, intermediate and advanced. It takes six semesters, or 21 hours, for a full-time student to complete the program. ESL is an academic and developmental program, so students receive a certificate of completion, rather than a degree. However, advanced level students are given the chance to take an exit exam and change to an academic major.

Pictures by Erika Canales from ESL's annual International Festival
on Thursday, April 7, 2011 at Delgado’s City Park Campus.

Nogaya Gueya and Mohamed Sy in typical clothing of Senegal

Lonys Bermudez and Eleonora Arguello display beautiful trenchilla dresses of Nicaragua

     Not only does ESL teach students to be fluent in English, but it also teaches cultural awareness. Betty Speyrer, department chair of ESL, American Sign Language and foreign languages said, "Students need to learn how to live in a different culture by not only acquiring knowledge of U.S. history and values, but also developing the attitudes of tolerance, understanding and respect for others while maintaining pride and appreciation of their own heritage."

    The ESL program has produced many success stories. In fact, Maria Cisneros, who completed the program in 1986 and graduated from Delgado with degrees in computer information systems and business administration, has worked in Delgado's Registrar office for more than 15 years. She continued her studies at Tulane University, receiving a Bachelor of Science, then years later enrolled at the University of New Orleans, to obtain a Master of Business Administration. In spite of those accomplishments, she still credits the ESL program for helping her get where she is today:

    "I arrived in New Orleans in August of 1984. I did not know how I was supposed to succeed in this country without knowing the language. The ESL program gave me the foundation and the tools that I needed to continue my journey, not only teaching me the language properly in order to succeed in the academic world and get a degree, but also guiding me and teaching me to learn a new culture, the American culture.  Being enrolled in the ESL program is more than learning English; it is being a part of a big family where the nurturing faculty are like your aunts and uncles, and the students from all different countries become your brothers and sisters in the USA.  Although it has been 25 years since I completed that program, and all the instructors who taught me have retired, I still hold the program and its faculty close to my heart because the bonds that were built remain very strong."

Report from the Office of Institutional Research, Sept. 15, 2011

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