Learning English as a newcomer to the United States is hard, demanding work.
Fortunately, some programs with excellent track records exist to help.
On Tuesday, February 4, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., The House of the Seven Gables hosts Diane
Portnoy, who will talk about The Immigrant Learning Center she founded in Malden,
Massachusetts, to help immigrants and refugees learn the language and acquire helpful skills.
She will also describe her own experience coming to this country with her Polish parents who
survived the Holocaust.
Portnoy arrived in the United States with her parents in 1948 when she was 3 1/2 years old.
They entered via Ellis Island bereft, having lost everything and everyone. “We were sent to
Malden, to a neighborhood where everyone spoke Yiddish,” says Portnoy. “Every person had to learn English, including my parents, and everyone did. Very little has changed over the years, with regard to immigration and learning the language. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s the same story over and over and over again.”
Her parents both got jobs in a sweater factory and eventually started a business of their own. Portnoy was keenly aware of the difficulties her parents and neighbors experienced. On top of the trauma of surviving the Holocaust, they faced cruel ethnic harassment in this country. As soon as she was able, she established The Immigrant Learning Center to help others experiencing similar needs and challenges, much like the Settlement programs sponsored by The House of the Seven Gables. The ILC flourished from the day it opened its doors.
For immigrants, everything is new, different and daunting. They may have children, one or
more jobs and anxieties about how to make it all work. While setting aside time for daily
classroom instruction may seem especially hard to schedule, there are, right now, 800 people
on the waiting list for The Immigrant Learning Center’s high-intensity, full-immersion classes.
The standards are strict and yet, at any given moment, 450 immigrants are working with a staff of 33 to learn English and absorb everything they are taught about their new culture and way of life.
“We’ll give you teachers. All you have to do is just come to school,” says Portnoy, who adds that the courses are free of charge. As CEO she has expanded The Immigrant Learning Center to include a robust Public Education Institute as well as The Institute for Immigration Research, a joint venture with George Mason University. She is also published a collection of essays by leaders in the field of immigrant studies titled, “Immigrant Struggles, Immigrant Gifts.”
The 19th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees and protects a woman’s right to vote. To
honor the 100th anniversary of this historic milestone, The House of the Seven Gables
celebrates the enterprising spirit of women and their continuing impact with a year of special
events beginning with Diane Portnoy.
This post was written by Julie Arrison-Bishop