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State-Run Program Uses Cell Phones To Teach Immigrants English

New York officials have joined forces with a mobile education company to teach immigrants English as a second language. Credit: koh kellen/freeimages.com.
New York officials have joined forces with a mobile education company to teach immigrants English as a second language. Credit: koh kellen/freeimages.com.
December 3, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. – Cell phones – considered a distraction for many students – are the main tool of a free state-run English learning program for immigrants in New York.

Participants simply call a phone number to listen to a lesson, which they review by answering questions though text messages.

The initiative is a partnership between the mobile education venture Cell-Ed and the Office for New Americans.

Jorge Montalvo, deputy Secretary of State for Economic Opportunity, says the program fills a need for immigrants, who are often prevented from learning English because of transportation, work or financial issues.

"There are places in the state where there are transportation issues for people to get to an English class,” he explains. “There are also places where there are a lack of English classes or quite frankly everyone learns differently so there may not be kind of the right manner by which the person is taught, that fits for them.”

So far, about 300 people have signed up to participate in the pilot since its launch back in April. This is the first state-funded program of its kind in the nation.

Montalvo says the program also highlights the obvious but vital economic necessity for newcomers and immigrants to learn English by taking a more innovative approach to English learning.

"If you can improve your economic livelihood with stronger capabilities to speak English and to read and write English, you're able to get a better job,” he stresses. “You can be better utilized in the work force by employers.”

Developers of the program say it takes about 25 hours to finish a level of classes. New York is providing the first two levels of classes as well as a citizenship class.

Nia Hamm, Public News Service - NY