Our View: Luzerne County Community College ESL program much needed

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The English language straddles the world.

There are more than 7.5 billion people on this planet, and an estimated 1.5 billion of them speak English, according to Babbel.com. That’s 2o percent of the Earth’s population.

What’s more remarkable is that most of those people aren’t native English speakers, as only about 360 million people claim it as their first language. That is testament to the amazing spread of English as a truly global language.

It’s not surprising then that English as a Second Language (ESL) courses are popular around the world. And it makes perfect sense that Luzerne County Community College is rolling out a new full-time ESL program starting this fall.

There are those who wring their hands over the thought that English is on the decline. That’s not true, although it has some serious rivals in several categories.

The various forms of Chinese have the largest number of native speakers by far, between 1.2 and 1.4 billion, though the bulk of them are in China and neighboring countries.

Worldwide, Spanish has more than 400 million native speakers — more than native English speakers — but only about 572 million total speakers, as Spanish newspaper El País points out.

A study by Ethnologue researchers shows that there are 38 countries where Chinese is spoken and 31 countries where Spanish is spoken.

By that criterion, it’s no contest: Ethnologue finds that there are 118 countries where English has an established presence.

The United States has never formally established English as its official language, but 80 percent of Americans — or about 238 million people — still speak English only at home.

Spanish is clearly on the rise, with 41 million native speakers in the country. Chinese comes in third, with about three-and-a-half million speaking it at home here.

Clearly, though, it makes sense for anyone who wants to be successful in this country — or in many parts of the world — to understand and be able to communicate in English.

In Luzerne County, where 10.7 percent of the 317,000 residents were Hispanic or Latino as of 2017, the need for ESL classes will only continue to grow.

“Education is the great equalizer,” LCCC vice president of academic affairs Cheryl Lesser said this week. “With education and the ability to speak English, you have the ability to achieve whatever you want.”

“I can speak to this being a former ESL student myself,” said Rosana Reyes, LCCC’s vice president of enrollment management and student development, who with Lesser has been active in promoting the new program. They led Tuesday’s presentation about it.

“This for me is a realization of what I was hoping for when I was struggling with the language,” Reyes added.

English is alive and well in America and around the world, but we as a nation would be foolish to pretend that every immigrant comes prepared to speak it with the proficency of a native. Helping them adapt to life in this country and contribute to American society by learning to speak this amazing and powerful language is simply the right thing to do.

We have nothing but praise for LCCC’s initiative, which will fill an obvious need in the community and makes good business sense for the Nanticoke-based college.

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