Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 5

Women's ESL Dominance Tied to Job Demands

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Immigrant women far outnumber men in English as a Second Language classes across the states. Helping school-age children is one big reason. So is gaining access to work.



Immigrant women far outnumber men in English as a Second Language classes across the states. (WOMENSENEWS)--A year ago, when Delma Santucei's 4-year-old daughter asked her to read a book in English there was long awkward silence.

Then came her momentous decision.

"Now is my time to go to school and learn English," said Santucei, who emigrated from Brazil 10 years ago with her husband. "It made me afraid. I don't want to teach wrong word for her," she said.

Now she curls up with her daughter and revels in reading bedtime stories. She is a better speller than her husband who took English as Second Language, or ESL, classes on and off, she said.

When Santucei joined the free ESL classes at Immigrant Learning Center in Malden, Mass., she was surprised by the preponderance of women. Each classroom, each language level, was almost two-thirds female.

"It has always been 70 percent women," said Diane Pourtnoy, who founded the not-for-profit adult education center for immigrants and refugees in 1992. The long waiting list reflects the ratio.

Similarly, in English for New Bostonians, 71 percent of 1,141 students are women. The initiative is a public-private-community program started by the mayor's office.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education, one of the key providers of ESL, finds a similar pattern across the country in its classes, with female enrollment dwarfing that of male enrollment in most states.

Most Students Foreign Born

The data do not include immigration status, but since these are adult ESL classes it can be assumed that most of the students are foreign born, said Cheryl Keenan, director of adult education and literacy at the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Adult ESL classes are available through an array of places: public schools, community and faith-based programs, public libraries, volunteer groups, community colleges, workplaces and for-profit companies, said Lynda Terrill at the Center for Adult English Language Acquisition, based in Washington, D.C.

Pourtnoy said women have consistently dominated ESL classes; however, it is not a straightforward "gender gap in education" issue. "There are too many variables. The reasons are very much cultural," she said.

Among immigrant communities, men often harbor a "macho attitude," she said, where the emphasis is on earning money and not going to language school. Men are frequently busy working multiple jobs.

"How can he have time to come to school?" said Rosangela Souza, referring to her husband, who has two jobs.

Souza came to United States more than a year ago from Brazil; she quit her housecleaning job to take care of her daughter and her husband.

She said her husband prefers to learn English on the street but is adamant that Souza finish her training, because "if somebody call to him in English, he would say 'please could you wait one second' and he would pass the phone to me."

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DYNAMIC DIASPORA: WOMEN AND IMMIGRATION SERIES

Series Overview

Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 12

Few Care for the Undocumented With Breast Cancer

Part: 11

Nebraska Prenatal Bill Stirs Fight Over Immigration

Part: 10

Visas Out of Hell: Women Need to Know They Exist

Part: 9

Deportation of Mothers in Iowa Tests Local Charity

Part: 8

Women's ESL Dominance Tied to Job Demands

Part: 7

For Street Vendor, Another Holiday in Shadows

Part: 6

Arrested Iowa Meat Packers Live in Legal Limbo

Part: 5

Battered Immigrants in Arizona Find Few Havens

Part: 4

Recession Shrinks Safety Net for Immigrant Women

Part: 3

Immigrant Survivors of Abuse Seek Freedom

Part: 2

U Visas Speed Up for Immigrants Who Flee Abuse

Part: 1

U Visa Recipients Look for Better Enforcement