Imagine moving to a country where you don’t speak the language. That’s the situation Esther del Castillo Labrador found herself in when she moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2016. Although she already spoke Spanish, German, and French, she struggled with her English language skills.
“I studied English grammar in school,” she explained, “but I couldn’t speak very well.”
And that’s when luck intervened. Shortly after moving to Fayetteville, Esther opened her front door to find a Spanish language newspaper on her doorstep.
“It was good chance,” Esther said, especially since she’d never received a Spanish paper before. As she started flipping through the pages, she stumbled across an advertisement for Ozark Literacy Council. “I didn’t know anyone, so no one could tell me about OLC. When I saw the advertisement, I knew I wanted to go to class there.”
Because Esther had arrived in the U.S. just a month before, she couldn’t drive herself to OLC. She asked her father-in-law to drive her to her first class, and Esther fit in immediately. She began taking OLC’s intermediate classes, and her language skills started improving right away.
“For me, I’m very happy because every day is focusing on a different skill,” Esther explained. “I like the plan…Monday’s are more writing, Tuesday is for listening…each day is different.” After just a few months at OLC, Esther began attending classes every day.
“It is my life outside the home,” she joked with a smile.
OLC is also an important stepping stone in Esther’s journey to reach her next goal—getting a job. Although Esther studied law in Spain, she can’t practice in the U.S. legal system. She and her tutor, Barbara Parker, are working together to prepare Esther for a career change. Not only do they practice English speaking skills, Barbara has also been helping Esther write her résumé.
“Barbara has helped me feel secure and has helped me to think about where I want to work,” Esther said. “Right now I’m thinking sales, but who knows!”
Esther’s experience as a student at OLC has helped her do more than improve her English language skills. OLC has also given her a community. “OLC is fantastic because it helps you with the [English] language and you also find people with common interests in the same situation,” Esther said. “You make friends, you learn to speak…it becomes another family because you normally see the same people every day when you come. It is easy to make friends at OLC.”
As Esther approaches her one-year anniversary at OLC, she has some words of wisdom for other students who are just getting started.
“I would say to come every day, constantly…not one day yes, one day no,” Esther explained. “Students will find the difference in the way [their] English improves. You listen to native people speak, you learn English, you learn grammar, you learn to read…you learn constantly, [and] you learn everything. But come every day. For me, that’s very important.”
Written by OLC Board Member Ashley Robinson