Las Vegas Sun

September 29, 2023


With jobs scarce, immigrants turn to ESL, GED classes

Students strive to meet language, employment requirements

ESL Class Signup

Leila Navidi

Siya Milosheva of Bulgaria lines up with others outside of the Community Multicultural Center to sign up for ESL classes near Tropicana and Eastern in Las Vegas Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012.

ESL Class Signup

People line up outside of the Community Multicultural Center to sign up for ESL classes near Tropicana and Eastern in Las Vegas Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Adam Melchor did not have trouble finding work in construction when he first arrived in Las Vegas in 2005.

The 43-year-old Mexican immigrant, who was sponsored by relatives here, found abundant opportunities in the construction industry even though he could not speak a word of English.

“For the first couple of years it was easy to find work,” he said in Spanish. “Now, there is nothing.”

Melchor said he now works as a cook and makes about a third or less than he did when he worked construction jobs.

Wednesday, Melchor and about 30 others lined up as much as two hours early to enroll in free English as a Second Language courses at the Community Multicultural Center.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand for ESL classes in the last few years,” said Lyn Pizor, Community Multicultural Center director. “We typically run waiting lists in all ESL classes, and in the last two or three years those lists have gotten longer. There just aren’t enough spaces to serve the population.”

The center gets the bulk of its funding through the federal Workforce Investment Act, and Pizor said the center can see as many as 125 people on ESL registration days.

The majority of those in line, including Melchor, spoke of the need to learn English so they can find a new job. Many said they would pursue GED classes, a new offering at the center, after their English skills were up to par.

By mid-afternoon Wednesday, more than 100 people had shown up to register for the center’s English courses. Some sections still were open, but one advanced class and one night class were full and had 21 students on the waiting list.

Monica Lopez moved from Mexico two months ago after her husband sponsored her for residency, and she showed up early Wednesday. Lopez has 10 years experience as a nurse in Mexico but needs to learn English to get licensed in the United States.

“For now we are living off my husband’s salary as a school teacher,” she said. “I want to learn English fast so I can start working again.”

Not all of those signing up for English classes were Spanish speakers. Korean, Cantonese and Arabic all emanated from the line where prospective students mingled.

Arej Kadhim, who came to the United States with her family from Iraq almost two years ago, was at the center to enroll in morning English classes.

“I worked at an Islamic school as a teacher’s assistant for the Arabic class, but I was laid off,” she said. “It was too bad. I liked it and would want a new job.”

Others in line at the Community Multicultural Center, where students are tested on their ability when they register and then placed in one of three levels, wanted to learn English so they could perform better at existing jobs.

“There is a lot of miscommunication at work. I think there are at least three languages going on at all times,” said Juan Carlos Escoto, a cook at Monte Carlo. “You want to communicate better but also be sure no one is taking advantage of you because you don’t understand English.”

At the College of Southern Nevada, about 1,000 students at a time are served in the Division of Workforce and Economic Development.

Cynthia Pierrot, who heads up the college’s GED, ESL and citizenship courses, said she has seen demand for ESL classes shift away from Henderson and toward the north of the city.

“I’d speculate that people are moving out of Henderson for cheaper areas,” she said. “So, we’ve had to shift our classes around to meet demand.”

At CSN, demand for GED classes has surged, according to Pierrot, and the waiting list is typically 60 to 80 names long.

The Community Multicultural Center also offers a Career Pathways course geared toward teaching immigrants how to adapt to the culture and customs of the U.S. workplace and, in response to demand, started offering GED classes in January.

“A lot of the students have their sights set on something greater. ... We talk to the students about their goals on registration day, and a lot of people say they want that GED. Some have a high school diploma from their own country, but they want to be able to say to an employer that they passed in English.”

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