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Joe Guzzardi: More immigrants should work to learn English

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Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2014 12:00 am

As a retired Lodi Unified School District ESL instructor who spent nearly 25 years teaching the San Joaquin Valley’s adult immigrants how to speak English — or at least trying to teach them — the recently released findings from the U.S. Census Bureau disappoint me.

My students included migrant workers from Mexico and Central America, Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants from all corners of the world. Before I left Lodi, I added up the different countries my students represented and came up with 44.

According to the Bureau’s latest report, less than half of immigrants living in the United States speak English “very well,” and about 13 percent don’t speak English at all. Another major finding: immigrants are less likely to speak English at home today than they were in 1980. Thirty-five years ago, 70 percent spoke a language other than English at home; today, 85 percent. The data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.

With the nation’s estimated immigrant population over age 5 at nearly 41 million, that means about 20 million residents struggle to communicate, while another 5 million can only interact with those who speak their native language.

Mexicans, who comprise more than a quarter of legal and illegal immigrants, and Guatemalans are the two nationalities least likely to have learned English. Among Mexicans, 29 percent say they don’t speak English well, and 18 percent don’t speak it at all. Guatemalan immigrants, who number about 852,000, rank lowest with 31 percent not speaking English well, and 18 percent not at all.

What the ACS survey doesn’t identify is its definition of “very well.” In 1986, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act mandated 40 hours of classroom ESL instruction, teachers were required to give exit exams to gauge students’ conversational English skills as a condition of their permanent resident status. When I would ask, for example, “What color is your house?” or “What is your child’s name?” I often got questioning looks and would mark N/R, nonresponsive, on my grade sheet. The same students, however, may have been able to order unprompted in a restaurant even though they might be speaking English haltingly.

As for those 6 percent on the survey who were identified as unable to speak English at all even after three decades in the U.S., that’s hard to understand.

For the majority, their children speak English, perhaps even fluently. English-language television, radio and newspapers are readily available and helpful tools in mastering a new language. The News-Sentinel offered complimentary copies to my classes, which I encouraged the students to take home to read.

I emphasized to my mostly young adult students, who will spend more of their lives in the U.S. than they did in their native countries, that while it’s easy to live in diverse America without English, such a life is limiting, unrewarding and ultimately unfulfilling. If they came to the U.S. to pursue a better life, as they claimed, then English must be part of that life. I’m sorry I didn’t do a more effective job.

Nevertheless, as I look back, my Lodi ESL experience was the best job I ever held. And I’m happy to say that, even years later, I’m still in touch with many of my former pupils. Those who did master English and went on to become citizens are gainfully employed and raising happy families.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Andrew Liebich posted at 2:29 pm on Thu, Jul 3, 2014.

    Andrew Liebich Posts: 2999


  • Walter Chang posted at 9:13 am on Thu, Jul 3, 2014.

    Walt Posts: 1184

    Ted, don't forget to pucker up!


  • Brian Dockter posted at 11:07 pm on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Brian Dockter Posts: 2866

    Ms. Bobbin,

    Not only are you accusing Joe of being ineffective, you are also, in so many words, accusing his superiors of completely ignoring his ineffectiveness and allowing him to go on teaching and receiving a paycheck. These are some serious accusations.

  • Christina Welch posted at 10:00 pm on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Christina Welch Posts: 460


    I think we're all accustomed to it by now when an article by Joe Guzzardi comes up...

  • Kevin Paglia posted at 6:32 pm on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Kevin Paglia Posts: 2106

    It is good to know that when Obama is out of office and talking about his time in office and says he wished he had been more effective, that those like Ms. Bobin will now have to admit that he was INEFFECTIVE.

  • Ted Lauchland posted at 3:27 pm on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Ted Lauchland Posts: 261

    Learning English is always a work in progress. It is never complete - even for the most arrogant. I am glad Mr. Guzzardi felt he was successful for some in being part of the progressive nature of learning English for those he touched. As always there will be some not as worthy of the effort. None the less , he put forth the effort.

    Thank you Mr. Guzzardi.

  • Ted Lauchland posted at 2:34 pm on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Ted Lauchland Posts: 261

    Don't you just hate "hate" speeches?

    Was that an eco eco ?

  • Andrew Liebich posted at 9:21 am on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Andrew Liebich Posts: 2999

    Joe's "I’m sorry I didn’t do a more effective job" sentence was clearly making reference to the recently released findings from the U.S. Census Bureau, the topic of his column.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 8:50 am on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    You are sadly comparing apples to oranges, Mr. Paglia.

    We are not talking about a hobby or feat of physical endurance. We are talking about an actual JOB in which an individual was highly paid, had complete benefits, and is now retired on a comfortable monthly income from that job.

    And NOW states he "I'm sorry I didn't do a more effective job."

  • Brian Dockter posted at 8:41 am on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Brian Dockter Posts: 2866

    Ms. Bobbin

    Wanting to be "more effective" and "ineffective" are two different things. Sadly you're going to stick with YOUR belief Joe meant to say he was "ineffective". And I highly doubt these ESL teachers you speak of would never say they could have been "more effective". Your belief that they would never say this is, in effect, saying they don't believe there is always room for improvement. Now, I'm sure Joe may have had some students he felt no matter how much he tried he was still "ineffective". But this is NOT what you are accusing him of.

  • Brian Dockter posted at 8:16 am on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Brian Dockter Posts: 2866


    Good column. Obviously you took your job very seriously. Of course you're only one person and you can only do so much. But Ms. Bobbin has every right to believe you were a complete failure. As foolish as she sounds in making such a ridiculous conclusion, I'm confident she will maintain this position just out of sheer meanness.
    Consider the source, which I know you have on many occasions.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 8:06 am on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Mr. Paglia wrote: "Wanting to be MORE effective is a very far cry from confessing to being "ineffective".

    Fortunately, Mr. Paglia, I am well acquainted with several ESL instructors who have been HIGHLY EFFECTIVE in their jobs.

    They have no regrets about not accomplishing what their job descriptions dictated. In fact, they often hold up excellent examples of their work, i.e., their former students who successfully learned English and whose children are fully BILINGUAL. They are successful in their careers, have gone to college, have built their own businesses, etc.

    Joe Guzzardi's outlook, again, ACCORDING TO HIS OWN WORDS, is that his ineffectiveness has doomed his students to all of the ills that he outlines in this column.

    Facts are facts. He stated the facts about his own performance.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 7:57 am on Wed, Jul 2, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Sorry, Mr. Kindseth - you are misinformed. I didn't imply that I had. I just stated that YOU WOULDN'T KNOW if I had.

    Are you trying to tell me that YOU have access to the visitor's logs at the Adult School for the past 30 years? If, for some weird reason, that is true, I would say that YOU have illegal possession of school district property. But I'm sure that is not the case.

    Why remove my post when Joe Guzzardi writes in his column that he didn't do a great job? I quoted him directly.

    And, FYI, I cannot remove any posts. Only the moderator and editor can do that and apparently they do not regard statements of FACT presented by the columnist as "slurs."

    Do you DENY that HE states that?

  • John Kindseth posted at 7:14 pm on Tue, Jul 1, 2014.

    John Kindseth Posts: 245

    JBobin....sadly you are so uninformed

    Dear Ms J. Bobin: If you visited the Lodi Adult School as you are clutchingly, and scrambling, trying to imply that you did, which you did not, unless you logged in with the school office for your visit, you in violation of state laws. Admit it. You got caught. Please extricate yourself easily and remove your posts of Joe Guzzardi and I will ask for mine to be removed as well when you face the fact that you goofed.

    All your slurs about Joe Guzzardi are incorrect and unsubstianted.,

  • Kevin Paglia posted at 2:09 pm on Tue, Jul 1, 2014.

    Kevin Paglia Posts: 2106

    I find it a sad commentary that when Mr. Guzzardi states "I’m sorry I didn’t do a more effective job." Liberal reads interpret that as "confesses in his own words RIGHT HERE in this column that he was ineffective at his job"

    Wanting to be MORE effective is a very far cry from confessing to being "ineffective".

    There have been many times I wish I had been MORE effective (the most current example is I wish I had been more effective in training for both a 1/2 marathon and a 80 mile cycle ride for charity. I could have done better, but my training was no where near INEFFECTIVE). Looking inward and seeing room for improvement, and expressing that desire to have done better, done more, been more effective is the sign of a person seeking growth and improvement.

  • Eric Barrow posted at 1:11 pm on Tue, Jul 1, 2014.

    Eric Barrow Posts: 1604

    When my Great Grandparents immigrated to this country they demanded full integration and that side of my families culture was completely lost; language, traditions, culture only some of the foods survived this homogenization. What a shame.

  • Kevin Paglia posted at 11:40 am on Tue, Jul 1, 2014.

    Kevin Paglia Posts: 2106

    When my great Grand Parents immigrated here from Poland they DEMANDED their children learn English and part of the "American" culture when outside the home. Inside the Polish traditions and language was spoken. His reasoning (as told by my mom who heard it all growing up, "If the great country of America is kind enough to let us in, then we must do what we can to be a positive part of it. Including using the language."

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 11:01 am on Tue, Jul 1, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Would you actually have had knowledge of any visit I might have made, Mr. Kindseth? That is presumptuous on your part to say the least.

    I didn't HAVE to visit it - Joe Guzzardi confesses in his own words RIGHT HERE in this column that he was ineffective at his job.

    What more proof do you need?

  • John Kindseth posted at 7:27 am on Tue, Jul 1, 2014.

    John Kindseth Posts: 245

    Joe: I don’t recall during your time at the LAS ever having your class visited by the Ms. Bobin, nor having her solicit comments from the hundreds and hundreds of students.

  • Ed Ojeda posted at 9:29 am on Mon, Jun 30, 2014.

    Capteo Posts: 20

    I would encourage bilingual(Spanish/English) high school and college graduates who live in the Lodi area to help the local Hispanic community by volunteering some of their time helping Spanish speakers learn to speak, read, and write English. The Lodi Library Literacy program is an excellent starting point. Yvette Herrera, the program coordinator, will provide books for the student and the tutor, and a quiet place in the library in which to work. The students appreciate the instruction which helps them to get better jobs and in dealing in day to day interactions with English speakers. The volunteer enjoys the satisfaction of giving back to the community and helping out. I know that I certainly do.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 8:49 am on Mon, Jun 30, 2014.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Joe Guzzardi wrote:

    "or at least trying to teach them"

    "I’m sorry I didn’t do a more effective job."

    "Nevertheless, as I look back, my Lodi ESL experience was the best job I ever held."

    How sad is it when a retired teacher, living a great life on retirement benefits received for 25 years in OUR school district admits that "the best job" he ever had
    was really no job at all because he was a complete failure at it.

    Happy retirement, Joe. Too bad the citizens of Lodi cannot get a refund of all his salary, benefits, and retirement contributions.


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