English Café in Southwest Florida: where English conversation is on the menu

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Conversation. The best way to learn a language. Making mistakes is part of the process.

With all the 24-hour cable news channels and news blogs reporting on the seemingly never-ending immigration debate with a side of bitter polarity, you would think the United States is chock full of folks who don’t want to learn the language, and another group demanding they learn it somehow– and fast!

Well, that’s just not true.

Take the “English Café” at the Lee County Library in Fort Myers, in Southwest Florida. This is a program where non-natives with little (very basic) command of English spend 90-minutes chatting with English as a Second Language volunteers. They also read English-language newspapers. Best part? The service is free, participants may start at any time, and advance registration is not required.

My parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. Back then, my dad was able to get a job at a factory, and it was survival of the fittest. If he didn’t know English, he wouldn’t be able to fully understand his boss or communicate with his coworkers. He muddled along picking up scraps by watching television shows and movies. (Lots of westerns, ‘pilgrim.’) But it was rudimentary at best.

Fast forward to the 1980s, and he was able to get a much better job as a machinist at the General Electric plant in Paterson, N.J., a very urban area where most of the workers at this General Electric plant he was working at were working class white or African American. His English had to improve because this was a job he wanted to keep.

So how did he learn? By speaking with us (he often asked us to respond to him in English so he’d get it), and talking with his (mostly) African American coworkers as they worked side-by-side with him. As a result, his English was hip! He would actually get home and say, “What it is?” Ha!

In today’s Internet-addicted world, my father’s scenario would be much tougher. And that’s why programs like English Café are a treasure.

There are many programs like it across the country. But unless one is very involved in local news and services, they may not know such opportunities exist. This is why I’m glad Univision Southwest Florida program, D’Latinos Al Día, reported on English Café. Watch the report below.

(Bonus fact: my aunt is a participant. A recent widow, she’s learning to do more on her own, and as she says at minute 1:33, she feels more equipped to speak English thanks to this “marvelous program.”) 

For more information on Lee County’s English Café, visit the library’s website.

One thought on “English Café in Southwest Florida: where English conversation is on the menu

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