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The English Center helps immigrants improve language skills

on August 23, 2011

Jian Di Liang did not speak English when she moved to Oakland from her native China in September 2010. “My English was so poor I didn’t dare talk to anyone because I was so scared,” said Liang, 20. “But since I started at The English Center, I started to build my confidence and all kind of knowledge.”

“It’s OK to talk now,” she added.

In two months, Liang will complete a 32-week language training program at The English Center, a nonprofit post-secondary school and job training center that teaches English to primarily immigrants and international students in order to better help them find a job or get into college.

“The idea is to immerse students in language so they can acquire the skills as quickly as possible,” said Marcy Jackson, the school’s executive director. “This is an English-speaking environment when they walk through the door.”

Since she started at The English Center, Liang has had courses in reading, writing, grammar, computer proficiency and pronunciation. Her favorite class is American Culture and Film, in which they just finished watching “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

“The actress, she is very beautiful, and the film is really romantic,” Liang said.

The English Center started in 1977 at Mills College and has been located in what looks like an office building at Jack London Square since 2008. Most students are full-time at the school and are divided into classes by proficiency level, as well as subject, such as grammar, speaking or listening classes. There are also courses that combine job training and computer proficiency with learning English. The average class size is 14 people.

“The payoff is big,” Jackson said. “In 32 weeks, we can take someone who comes with an intermediate level of English and make them job ready. They’re ready to compete with native speakers or in a university classroom.”

What is unique about The English Center, Jackson said, is that while the school does have international students, it is primarily for the local immigrant population. It also receives federal funds for post-secondary education, meaning the program wasn’t on the chopping block like other state-funded English as a Second Language (ESL) programs for adults, like the City of Oakland’s, which was cut last fall. About 90 percent of students access financial aid, Jackson said. “The fact is, we can help any immigrant who is highly motivated to learn English,” Jackson said. “We can really make this happen.”

The students at The English Center represented 44 nationalities last year. The average age of the students is 35, putting Liang on the younger end of the spectrum.

Liang does fit the description of “highly motivated student,” though, Jackson said. Along with taking classes five days a week, she also has an internship at the Port of Oakland where she’s an office assistant doing data entry and filing, and has held jobs this year as a waiter and a cashier at a dry cleaner.

Soon, though, Liang hopes to get a temporary job where she can save up money for college. She wants to go to Merritt College and then transfer to a four-year school to study nursing. “I want to work with children,” she said.

“My purpose is improving my English first, and then get a job after and then go to college,” she said. “That’s my plan.”

The English Center is receiving applicants for the fall semester, which begins August 29. Click here for more information.

1 Comment

  1. kiyomi tanouye on August 23, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I used to work for the English Center when I attended Mills College – what an amazing program! Unbeknownst to me when I started working there, my mother had actually attended Mills through the English Center! The English Center has a great legacy in Oakland and I hope it continues to help students.

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