Wednesday, July 31, 2013

English Lessons at 7-11

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A committed student, Zinsou practiced
his English with customers at the 7-11.
Zinsou has lived in the DC area for nearly five years, but when he says “home,” he still means Togo, West Africa – the place he was born, and the place his wife and two small children wait to join him in the US.

“It is painful to be separated from them,” he said. “Everything I do is to support them in Togo and build a new home for us here.”

Zinsou left Togo, a country rattled with political and economic instability, to improve his job and his wages. But the process was slow, especially since he spoke very little English. He found work at 7-11, barely enough to cover his rent and support his family in Togo. The job was hard as he struggled to understand his customers. When a friend told him about Catholic Charities’ English as a Second Language program, Zinsou decided to sign up.

“I wanted to go to school here and have a better job. But I could not do this without English,” he said.

Zinsou began his studies in January 2011, steadily advancing through intermediate, advanced, conversational and workplace English courses.  He would study in the downtime at his job and at night after a long workday.
Father John congratulates Zinsou as he receives his
ESOL diploma. 

“Pronunciation was very difficult for me. I would talk to myself in my apartment at first to practice. Then I started practicing with customers at my job. It helped me to hear the customers talking. I learned new words and could think about the way words sounded,” he said.

As he began to master the language, Zinsou took additional courses through the ESOL program in workplace English and career development. “The instructors were so helpful. We learned what to do to improve ourselves at work. We learned what words to use to express ourselves on the job.”

Kathy Diaz, coordinator of the ESOL program, said this aspect of the ESOL course is one of the most critical to students finding success after their graduation. “Most of our students are learning English with a definite purpose in mind. They want to get their GED, go to college, and find a better job. We want to make sure they have the skills to fulfill their goals.”

The positive effects were immediate. Zinsou was promoted to store manager, meaning he is more in control of his schedule and earning better wages for his family. He sends money to them two to three times each month and has already applied for their visas so they can join him. Finally, the United States will be home for them all.

“Their application is on review,” he said. “I am hopeful.”

Though the faces of his family were missing from the crowd gathered to celebrate the ESOL Class of 2013 earlier this month, Zinsou said it was a proud moment for him, and marked a happy beginning to his education and advancement.

“I want to go to school now. With a degree there will be many more job opportunities for me.”

Congratulations to all graduates in the ESOL Class of 2013!
Photos by Elizabeth Demaree Photography
You can learn more about our ESOL and Career Development program here. New session will be starting soon! Email Katherine.Diaz@CatholicCharitiesDC.org for more information.