Learning the language: English class 2010.03.24

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

“How may I help you?” asks Morenci Elementary School teacher Melissa Elliott.esl.elliott.jpg

“I would like to cash my check,” answers Gaudencio Cortes. His statement doesn’t come out smoothly, but it’s easy to understand his request.

Melissa doesn’t let him off that easily.

“Could I see some ID?”

Gaudencio pretends to take a card from his wallet.

“Do you have an account with us?” Melissa asks.

“Yes,” Gaudencio answers.

“Oh, I need you to sign the check,” Melissa tells him and hands the paper back.

“Could I borrow a pen?” Gaudencio asks, with a little help.

“Do you want small bills or large bills?” she asks.

That pretty much covers everything that might be experienced when Gaudencio goes to the bank with his paycheck from the Bruinsma Dairy northeast of Morenci.

Next it’s Pilar Cuayahuitl’s turn to go through the routine.

Pilar is the reason that Melissa is leading this informal class in English as a second language.

Pilar has lived in the United States for 10 years, but she still speaks her native Spanish. She once started to take an English language course in Adrian, but soon dropped it. It was difficult to arrange travel to the class and it wasn’t quite what she was after.

She started to spend time in Mrs. Elliott’s class last year when her daughter, Mariel, was in first grade. She thought it would be a good way to learn more of the language. That led to the start of the class, not only for Pilar but for the parents of other students, as well.

Pilar invited some of her relatives to attend and five sessions were scheduled last fall. A few other family members of local dairy workers have shown up to attend the additional 10 classes that were set up for the winter. Today marks the final session.

Some weeks only a couple students attend. Other weeks as many as a dozen appear in Melissa’s classroom. Work schedules often make attendance difficult.

Although Melissa has a good command of Spanish, she learned a more formal approach in a classroom and doesn’t consider herself an expert by any means.

That’s where Dora Cortes comes into play. Dora, a sister-in-law of Gaudencio, lives in Wauseon and met Melissa at a family function. She agreed to serve as an assistant, and she hasn’t missed a session since.

In addition to banking, class sessions have covered using the telephone to call 911; visiting the doctor; learning address and phone number; learning terms that might be encountered on the job; and learning phrases that could be useful when calling the school.

“We decide at the end of each class what will be discussed next,” Melissa said.

There’s always plenty of repetition with each topic.

“Most of them understand a lot of English, but they haven’t taken the time to learn to speak it,” Melissa said.

In many cases, a person’s husband or wife can communicate well and one speaks for the other when necessary. The children are all bilingual and they often handle the translating.

“It really takes a lot of practice,” Dora said.

That’s a hindrance to Pilar because her husband, Armando, doesn’t have the patience to teach her.

“The most difficult thing about living here is not knowing the language,” Pilar said. “And the winter,” she added.

The inability to communicate brings  restrictions to life in the U.S. and if she doesn’t learn to communicate in English, she’d rather return to Mexico.

Leticia Acosta agrees. It’s terrible not to understand, she says, and she wants to learn the language both for herself and to create a better life for her child, who is scheduled to be born in June.

Melissa understands the frustration. Her father was in the U.S. Air Force and she remembers spending a year in Korea, unfamiliar with both the language and the culture.

Mastering the local tongue goes beyond a simple matter of communication.

“It feels good for them to learn,” Dora said.

Melissa plans to resume classes in the fall, maybe in a more formal setting.


• Twelve members of area Mexican families have signed up for a CPR/first aid course. Melissa is working with Morenci police chief Larry Weeks to organize the two four-hour sessions that will feature instruction and videos in Spanish.

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016