Literacy Network
701 Dane St.
Madison, WI 53713
Phone 608-244-3911
Mon, Feb 19, 2018
About Us : Our Learners : A Semester with Maria
A Semester with Maria Part 2

Have you ever studied a new language? Do you remember the amount of work it takes to make even small progress and stay sharp from week to week? Now imagine how much harder learning a new language might be while working full time. For Maria, this is her daily life. Like so many Literacy Network students, Maria balances studying English with working physically demanding jobs.

Maria's first job in Wisconsin was taking care of children of migrant workers on farms. From there she has worked at half a dozen more jobs, including at a hotel doing cleaning and laundry, on the floor of a printing factory, and at a golf course where a supervisor told her "you must learn English." Today, she works at a large restaurant in downtown Madison washing dishes.

When asked if things might have been different if she had spoken English years ago, Maria's answer is simple: yes. For one, she could have found a job which didn't require her to stand all day or perform the demanding tasks of laundry or dishwashing. In fact, not too long ago, Maria says, she "lost an offer for a comfy job" filling out receipts for her landlord. However, because she lacked the computer skills, she couldn't take the position. That missed chance is one of the main reasons Maria decided to focus on computer skills at Literacy Network.

Had Maria spoken English years ago, she might have been able to start a career with stronger job security. In 2005, Maria lost her job after getting very sick in a rainstorm. For the next three months, she was unemployed and living out of her car - homeless until she found work and was able to afford renting an apartment again. Had she been able to find a more stable job with benefits, it's not hard to imagine things would have been very different for her.

Recently, Maria has been looking for less physically demanding work. Last month, she worked with a house-cleaning crew for a day, trying to show the manager there that she needed this new job and could handle the work. However, as is true too often, the odds were stacked against her and the manager gave her the hardest tasks of the day.

As Maria grows in her English abilities, her ambition is driven in large part by a desire to advance beyond physically demanding work. "I could have been a waitress," Maria says. "I didn't have confidence . . . now I am more sure about that."

One of the main tenets of Literacy Network's mission is to help our students achieve financial security by helping them strengthen their literacy. Thanks to you, we are helping Maria and more than a thousand other learners working hard to improve their literacy to better themselves, their families, and their communities.

A Semester with Maria: Part 1

Literacy Network students come from all walks of life. For many, improving their literacy is a life-changing opportunity. However, literacy is not something that happens overnight. Our students work for months and oftentimes years to reach their literacy goals.

Meet Maria, a student who is in her sixth year of taking classes at Literacy Network. When she started, Maria had only the most basic skills in English. Today, she works with her tutor, Mary, to continually strengthen her literacy skills in Literacy Network's Community Literacy program. Her growth as an English speaker over six years has been tremendous. For example, she can now speak clearly to a store clerk or read instructions coming from her doctor or household bills. Developing literacy is a long-term journey that has given Maria control of her own life.

Maria is a strong, self-sufficient woman. She has lived in Wisconsin for over 16 years now, working a variety of jobs from childcare for migrant workers to hotel cleaning and restaurant dishwashing. All this time, she has lived on her own - she was born the seventh of twelve children in northern Mexico but moved to Wisconsin by herself. In the six years she has been learning English, Maria has been a model of self-motivation and focus.

Maria is not alone in her journey to learn English, however. She has found support and motivation from those around her at Literacy Network and at her work. Maria works weekly with her Literacy Network tutor to follow a customized English curriculum, she finds time to practice bits of English with a work supervisor, and over the past few years she has developed a close relationship with one of her former Literacy Network tutors.

As is the case for almost anyone learning a new language, education is a long-term process. "Not everybody want to take this challenge," Maria says. In the first month of this semester, Maria has worked with her tutor, Mary, on various topics including basic computer skills and vocabulary for the home. Each tutoring lesson is written with Maria in mind, giving her weekly small goals to work toward and setting the stage for practicing English with Mary. When talking about learning computer skills, both Maria and Mary laugh - they are of the same generation when it comes to computers, neither are experts. However, as they learn together, Maria works bit by bit on what she came to Literacy Network to do - learn English. "I know what I am doing wrong," Maria says while discussing learning new vocabulary. For her, it's not too hard to learn the new words a first time, but, she says, "I need to practice."

Maria has books for multiple levels of English instruction at home to practice when she's not in class or busy with her dishwashing job. She is determined to strengthen all parts of her English: pronunciation, spelling, grammar, and even typing. As she learns more English, Maria shares, she has a greater chance to get a new job she wants in housecleaning. In one sense, however, her process of learning English is a point of pride as much as it is a practical necessity. Summing up her growth as an English speaker, Maria has said "I'm not perfect but I'm not ignorant in [all] the English language." When she started as a student at Literacy Network, Maria had a very limited ability to use English. Today, she can use her English to better her life in so many ways.

Join us next month as we continue to explore Maria's life and her journey as an English language learner at Literacy Network. Looking ahead, we will see how her English skills effect almost all aspects of her life in some way including her work life and the relationships she has formed here in Madison. Maria's story is a window into the lives of Literacy Network students and the long process of growth necessary to learn a new language from the bottom up.