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Habla Ingles? Immigrants Flock To Bergenfield Language Program

Frieda Alvarenga of El Salvador and Aitzaz Ashraf of Pakistan follow along at an English as a Second Language class at Bergenfield Public Library. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Rafael Padron of Colombia asks a question. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Agnes Chung of China listens intently to an exchange in class. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
English as a Second Language Instructor Pedro DaSilva addresses his class. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
ESL and Adult Program Coordinator Don Hansen of Hillsdale has been the man behind the Bergenfield Public Library's popular English as a Second Language Program since 2009. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Around the table at an English as a Second Language class are, from the left, Agnes Chung, Frieda Alvarenga, Aitzaz Ashraf, Rafael Padron, Vicente Acosta and backup tutor Mary Cadillac of Palisades Park. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Pedro DaSilva of Bergenfield, language instructor, is known for his thorough but gentle and friendly teaching style in the program. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

BERGENFIELD, N.J. — Immigrants from 30 countries who settle in Bergenfield know where to go to learn English, for only the cost of a $10 registration fee — the Bergenfield Public Library.

Started in 1980, its English as a Second Language (ESL) Program, is among the oldest in Bergen County.

Today there are 65 adult students, said Don Hansen of Hillsdale, a retired Wall Streeter who loves being the ESL and adult program coordinator.

Collectively, the students speak 22 languages, he added.

They all participate in one of four English classes and/or learn from 42 trained volunteer tutors.

They also get 24/7 access to Mango Languages software, compliments of Friends of the Bergenfield Library, through any Internet connection.

“(In Mango) English classes are taught by a person whose native country is that of the student,” Hansen said.

Put it all together and that’s a lot of help to get for a pittance. So the waiting list to get into Bergenfield’s program is 35 people long.

Sometimes people come to learn soon after they move to town, Hansen said.

Sometimes not.

There are lots of supports for immigrants in the area, Hansen explained. They can get a job, go shopping, and speak to their neighbors and still not speak English.

“Then one day, 10 years later, they wake up and realize, I still don’t speak English,” Hansen said.

That means not being able to talk to their children’s teachers at school.

Or explain a malady to a doctor.

Or shop in mainstream stores.

Or – and this is a big one — get a better job.

Aitzaz Ashraf of Pakistan, who has worked as a computer developer in Dumont for three years, is a case in point. For most of his duties, he has no language issue.

“But when I have to communicate with customers, I face a problem with speaking,” he said.

“So, due to that, I’m here to work on my English.”

Monday night, he sat in a class of six led by the affable and popular instructor, Pedro DaSilva of Bergenfield.

DaSilva did exercises with the group on English phrases.

“What’s the opposite of right?” he asked.

“Wrong!” someone yelled out.

At almost the same time, another said, “Left.”

They tackled other phrases and words, too: breaking the ice, for instance, and “on” and “off.”

After five months at the library, Ashraf said, he is speaking much more confidently.

Classmate Rafael Padron, a mechanical engineer in his native Colombia, works now on the maintenance team of a bakery.

Frieda Alvarenga of El Salvador, also in the class, works at an ice cream shop but needs to be able to converse better with people she encounters.

“We do conversation here,” DaSilva said. “I’ll step in to make corrections of their usage of the language.

“Otherwise, I just want them to loosen the tongue, to try it, to take away the fear of speaking English.”

Want to get lessons? Register through Hansen.

Or be a tutor? Also register through Hansen at 201-387-4040, ext. 2837 or email the program HERE.

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