According to the American Immigration Council website, one in six Texas residents is an immigrant. In 2018, 4.9 million immigrants comprised 17 percent of the population.
Immigrants come to Texas with various educational needs. For those in Tarrant County who want to improve their academic English skills in listening, speaking, reading, writing and grammar, TCC offers English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), which began at TCC Southeast 10 years ago. Courses range from true beginner (student has little to no English skills) to those which help students become college-ready.
Since ESOL classes began at TCC, students (whose country of origin is known) from 79 countries have participated. Classes offered include Reading, Writing, Grammar and Oral Communication.
TCC Southeast President Bill Coppola is proud of the ESOL program and what it has accomplished. “While the ESOL program is designed to develop the students’ language skills, it provides them with a safe and supportive environment in which to develop confidence and learn about the American college system. Our talented faculty help the students develop self-esteem, which is so critical to their students’ success both in and outside of the classroom,” he said.
Mary Cinatl, coordinator for the ESOL program at TCC Southeast, has worked with second-language learners for more than 40 years, counting her work with Deaf Education. The last 18 years, she has focused on international students, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) as well as ESOL. “I believe by opening doors to immigrants and helping them learn not only the language of their new country, but how to assimilate and embrace a new culture, I am supporting their dreams,” she said. “I know how determined these students are to succeed and have witnessed the sacrifices they are willing to make to achieve their dreams. Obstacles naturally arise when coming to a new country and an academic environment. ESOL helps students navigate this unfamiliar territory and develop the linguistic confidence they need to succeed.”
Student Minh Vu, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam, has high praise for the program. “TCC brought me, but also many others who immigrated to the U.S. a big chance to have a quality new life,” she said. “I could learn with financial aid during the time I have low income.” She went on to express appreciation for Cinatl’s lectures, finding her “hardworking, intelligent and having a sense of humor.”
Cinatl considers the benefits of her work in ESOL reciprocal. “International students give as much as they receive,” she said. “Students share their background, food, politics, struggles and successes with me, and I am always learning from them.”
While the ESOL program is designed to develop the students’ language skills, it provides them with a safe and supportive environment in which to develop confidence and learn about the American college system. Our talented faculty help the students develop self-esteem, which is so critical to their students’ success both in and outside of the classroom.
TCC Southeast President
Student Adelino Handem, who is from Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, learned about TCC from his daughter-in-law who improved her English in an ESL class. He visited TCC Southeast and met an advisor who introduced him to the ESOL program. “I learned English, I discovered American society and I met people from different countries and cultures,” he said.
Ilka Cziczka, originally from Hungary, went through the program and now is working as an on-call instructional assistant in the Reading Writing Resource Center at TCC Southeast. “The instructors’ biggest interest is the student’s success,” she said. “They won’t let anyone struggle or fail; they will find a way for student satisfaction.”
Former student Huy Phan, who hails from Vietnam, agrees. He says the instructors are “experienced, enthusiastic and dedicated. ESOL classes at TCC were one of the first classes that gave me a good foundation in English and an opportunity to love the new community and appreciate different cultures,” he said. Cinatl was his instructor for his ESOL classes. Phan considers her a mentor who always supported him, even when he was no longer in ESOL.
Cinatl worked with a team of educators to develop the TCC Southeast ESOL program. Each educator brings diverse experience and perspective into the classroom.
“An ESOL instructor is a teacher of language but also is the one who connects that student to the culture of this land and is a window to the rest of this place,” according to instructor Christina Marrero. Her 20-year, diverse experience in language began with teaching English in South Korea and Taiwan. Later, she taught English language learners from around the world at an inner-city high school in the Bronx while working on her master’s degree in New York City. Following that, she taught at an international school in Chile. After teaching in the Intensive English program at the University of Arkansas, she helped begin an English for Foreigners department at a private university in the capital of Colombia.
Marrero says she is intrigued by what people think she does. After hearing she teaches English as a second language, they often ask how many languages she speaks. “I speak English the entire time, as that is what we are learning, and it is the only language we have in common,” she said. “So, while there are differences in our students from diverse countries, there are more similarities between their needs and goals.”
Adjunct instructor Gabrielle Johnson understands the challenges of being a second-language learner. Her husband is Hispanic and a native Spanish speaker, which necessitated her learning Spanish. “The majority of my husband’s family speaks little to no English. I needed to be able to communicate with them in order to connect with them,” she said.
We live in very divisive times, but by teaching classes filled with students of all ages, religions and ethnicities, I’m able to help everyone see our similarities rather than the differences.
TCC ESOL Instructor
Johnson brings techniques that aided her in her learning a second language to her ESOL teaching. “I love to teach with a flare of creativity that means taking steps away from the traditional to incorporate a more communicative teaching environment—a place where students can discover themselves,” she said. “I love to venture outside of the classroom. Students enjoy getting the chance to walk around and really use their English with native and non-native speakers on campus.” Her classes also use descriptive journals. Students go outside and describe what they see, hear, taste, smell and touch. Other activities involve students conducting polls and interviews.
Carrie Sullivan came to TCC after receiving a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which she pursued after teaching English at the junior high and high school levels. She believes it is important for TCC to offer ESOL. “We have a growing population of non-native English speakers. Providing them a solid foundation in the four skills of English not only gives them confidence as they move forward with their degree, it also gives them valuable skills they will be able to use in their lives,” she said. “Students learn how to effectively communicate verbally and with the written word, which serves them in social situations, as well as places of employment.”
When she joined TCC as a writing tutor, Nicole Procell was working on her bachelor’s degree in Linguistics and her TESOL certificate from the University of Texas at Arlington. “I believe ESOL acts as a bridge between the community and college that many second language learners need to gain fluency and confidence using English to better their future,” she said. Procell believes ESOL instructors should be able to assess a student’s knowledge and use strategies to relay information to them in an understandable way. Even more so, instructors should be open to building relationships with all cultures and people from different parts of the world.
Like most TCC faculty, the ESOL teaching team had to adjust how curriculum was delivered once the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the shift of most TCC classes to an online environment. “On the fly, we went remote as most everyone did,” said Marrero. “We worked hard to adapt the material to be as interactive as possible while still achieving all of our language goals for the second half of the (spring 2020) semester. Some students transitioned with ease logging in and out and some had greater challenges.”
According to Procell, because classes were moved online, some of the assignments requiring in-person collaboration became limited. “Previously, there were not any ESOL courses offered online because a huge part of ESOL is face-to-face interaction,” she said. “I have had to adjust by coming up with activities that allow students to continue to work together as if they were face-to-face.”
She also has had to find new ways to provide feedback to students. “For many students from different countries, computers are not used as heavily in education, so learning how to submit work online and navigate Blackboard Collaborate extensively can be a challenge.” Procell says students must be more self-motivated to check Blackboard consistently for updates and assignments and reach out by email with questions. “This can be intimidating for ESOL students since they may not have strong writing skills in English,” she said.
I believe ESOL acts as a bridge between the community and college that many second language learners need to gain fluency and confidence using English to better their future.
TCC ESOL Instructor
Sullivan says her students have been wonderful about the changes in lesson delivery. “For the most part, they all courageously adapted just like the teachers did!”
Every member of the ESOL teaching team says the experience is rewarding; both Marrero and Johnson say it means everything to them. “It is who I am,” said Marrero. “I am so passionate about what I do, and I am so dedicated to this field because I know that education has the power to change people’s lives.”
While improving their English is always a primary factor, the underlying reasons students take ESOL are as diverse as the countries they represent. Lilia Vazquez Zaragoza, a lawyer from Mexico, wanted to improve her English before she starts working in the U.S. “I would like to know more about the law in this country, but I’m not sure if I will study something related with my major,” she said.
Johnson admits she has not had the opportunity to travel around the world, however. “Because of what I do, I have the world sitting in my classroom,” she said. “I get to hear first-hand experiences about events I have read about in books and seen on TV. My students bring their culture, life lessons, passions and insecurities into the classroom. I could not ask for more.”
Cinatl says, “I have always wanted to work in a career where I can help others… in some small way make a difference in the lives of others, especially those that may be misunderstood or marginalized. I am grateful to do just this.“
Taking great pride as an educator in this field, Sullivan says she sees it as a way to promote unity.
“We live in very divisive times, but by teaching classes filled with students of all ages, religions and ethnicities, I’m able to help everyone see our similarities rather than the differences.”
Minh Vu plans to start attending a four-year university next year to study Medical Lab Engineering.
Huy Phan already has graduated with a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Arlington and as of this writing, was applying to dental schools.
Ilka Cziczka started the ESOL program at TCC after she and her husband moved here from Houston because of his promotion. “Taking advantage of my free time, I thought, it’s time for me to master the English language.” She selected TCC because “I needed something that has purpose. This program prepares students for higher education with academic language and with conscious and consistent work,” she said. The ESOL program played a big part in her goal to complete the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Eventually, she wants to get her Master of Science in Business Analytics.
Adelino Handem, who now is retired after a career in water supply and sustainable development, plans to write books, starting with an autobiography followed by a series of novels based on stories from his homeland. To improve his writing skills and give him a better understanding of the world, he intends to take courses in literature, history and philosophy.
While the majority of ESOL students attend TCC Southeast, classes are available at other campuses as well. Find more information on the ESOL program at TCC and how to enroll.