Words of wisdom

Eduardo Soares came to Phil­adelphia from Brazil in 1999 and man­aged to pick up a little Eng­lish.

Four months ago, the 39-year-old self-em­ployed car­penter de­cided to form­al­ize his Eng­lish edu­ca­tion. He en­rolled at the Rhawn­hurst-based Phil­adelphia Lan­guage Cen­ter.

“I came here be­cause I need to speak and un­der­stand Eng­lish,” he said.

Spe­cific­ally, Soares needed to learn Eng­lish to pass the test to be­come a United States cit­izen. Earli­er, he failed the writ­ten part. He also wanted to be able to bet­ter con­verse with his three daugh­ters, ages 6, 8 and 12 and stu­dents at Rhawn­hurst Ele­ment­ary School.

So far, he’s done well at the Phil­adelphia Lan­guage Cen­ter.

“It’s help­ing a lot. Be­fore I came here, my writ­ing and spelling were ter­rible. Now, they’re much bet­ter,” he said.

How much bet­ter? A month ago, he passed the writ­ten por­tion of the cit­izen­ship test and is now an Amer­ic­an.

The Phil­adelphia Lan­guage Cen­ter,  loc­ated at 7708 Castor Ave., bills it­self as “your pass­port to a world of lan­guages.”

The hus­band-and-wife team of Dale and Jes­sica Win­ter­bot­tom bought the busi­ness in May 2011 and changed the name from Wiz­ard Lan­guage Cen­ter.

Jes­sica, a nat­ive of Brazil and a former teach­er at Wiz­ard, is the cen­ter’s dir­ect­or. Her hus­band, a U.S. nat­ive and full-time ac­count­ant, handles the fin­ances.

The couple also own BCE Con­sult­ing, which is loc­ated next door. That com­pany of­fers the im­mig­rant com­munit­ies ser­vices such as pass­port re­new­al and pho­tos, book­keep­ing, in­sur­ance, fax­ing, trans­la­tion, in­ter­pret­a­tion, in­come tax pre­par­a­tion and not­ary pub­lic.

As for the Phil­adelphia Lan­guage Cen­ter, the primary fo­cus is teach­ing Eng­lish as a second lan­guage in eight on-site classrooms. The stu­dents’ moth­er tongues in­clude Span­ish, Por­tuguese, Ar­ab­ic, Rus­si­an, Hindu, Urdu, Itali­an, French and Ger­man.

Jes­sica, who came to the United States  four years ago, said there’s a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship between her and the stu­dents.

“We’re all im­mig­rants,” she said. “I know how dif­fi­cult it can be to go gro­cery shop­ping, to the bank or to take the bus.”

Classes are held Monday through Thursday nights and Sunday morn­ings. The classes last for 16 weeks, and stu­dents can sign up for 64 or 192 hours.

The cost is $1,100, in­clud­ing the re­gis­tra­tion fee and books, for the 192-hour course. The fee is $58 for the 64-hour course.

Test­ing is done monthly. Class size does not ex­ceed 10.

“Stu­dents get in­di­vidu­al help from teach­ers,” Dale Win­ter­bot­tom said.

In be­gin­ner levels, stu­dents learn enough of the lan­guage to be able to take care of their ba­sic health, food, oc­cu­pa­tion­al and fam­ily needs.

In the in­ter­me­di­ate levels, there’s a fo­cus on let­ter and es­say writ­ing; the read­ing and ana­lys­is of print me­dia; and the study of po­etry, short stor­ies and one-act plays.

In the ad­vanced level, stu­dents are ex­pec­ted to read in­de­pend­ently, con­trib­ute to class dis­cus­sions and par­ti­cip­ate in group de­bates.

As part of the course, staffers take the stu­dents to movie theat­ers and Amer­ic­an icons ran­ging from the Liberty Bell to Mc­Don­ald’s.

When the stu­dents be­come frus­trated, Jes­sica and her staff smile and say, “Everything will be OK.”

Still, the job is to get these im­mig­rants to speak the lan­guage of their new coun­try. That can be a chal­lenge for im­mig­rants who cling to their nat­ive lan­guages when they’re at stores and res­taur­ants, watch­ing tele­vi­sion and com­mu­nic­at­ing at the work place.

The cen­ter em­ploys an im­mer­sion meth­od­o­logy.


“From day one, we work on the tar­get lan­guage,” Jes­sica said.

The cen­ter is staffed by 12 ex­per­i­enced teach­ers. Stew­art Bon­ner is one of them. He’s a full-time teach­er of Eng­lish as a second lan­guage at Beth­une Ele­ment­ary School in North Phil­adelphia.

At the lan­guage cen­ter, he teaches an ad­vanced gram­mar class on Tues­days and Thursdays. He be­lieves the set­ting is con­du­cive for learn­ing. He calls Jes­sica Win­ter­bot­tom “Mrs. Smile.”

“This place has a spe­cial charm to it. This is a place with a heart. It is so warm. It’s an in­ter­na­tion­al Mom and Pop,” he said.

Many of the stu­dents come to the cen­ter tired after work­ing all day, which presents an ad­di­tion­al chal­lenge for teach­ers.

“You have to en­gage the stu­dents,” Bon­ner said. “Every­body likes to talk about them­selves, and I ask them ques­tions all the time.”

Ab­dele­lah Habib, who was born in Jordan and serves as an in­de­pend­ent con­sult­ant, eagerly re­cruits stu­dents to the cen­ter.

“There’s a very nice fam­ily at­mo­sphere in this school,” he said.

Sul­tan Alsuwaidi, a 37-year-old from the United Ar­ab Emir­ates, first came to the United States in 1999 and lived in Ari­zona for four years. He spent six months in 2007 in Bal­timore where two of his chil­dren were be­ing treated at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pit­al. He moved to Cen­ter City last Oc­to­ber so his chil­dren could be cared for at Chil­dren’s Hos­pit­al of Phil­adelphia.

Re­cently, he de­cided to im­prove his un­der­stand­ing of the Eng­lish lan­guage.

“I talked to Mr. Habib. I wanted to learn Eng­lish so I could go out­side and speak to people,” he said through Habib’s trans­la­tion.

Mar­celo Batista, 38, moved from Brazil to New Jer­sey in 2002. He re­lo­cated to Rhawn­hurst the fol­low­ing year.

A car­penter, he plans to re­main in the United States and real­izes he has to be able to com­mu­nic­ate with his co-work­ers, bosses and all Amer­ic­an cit­izens. He’s on his way to a com­mand of the Eng­lish lan­guage, he said, thanks to the Phil­adelphia Lan­guage Cen­ter.

“It’s help­ing a lot. Be­fore, I had prob­lems speak­ing. Now, I’m talk­ing bet­ter,” he said. ••

En­roll­ment is open at any time. Call 215-745-0243, vis­it www.phil­adelphi­alan­guage­cen­ter.com or check out the Phil­adelphia Lan­guage Cen­ter page on Face­book.

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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