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Program builds bridges for language learners

Newport/Mesa ProLiteracy helps adults strengthen their English-language skills, including award recipient Effy Sanchez.

September 08, 2011|By Britney Barnes
(Don Leach, Daily…)

NEWPORT BEACH — When Effy Sanchez's children were growing up, she didn't speak English well enough to read to them.

Instead, she watched her husband introduce them to the world of Dr. Seuss.

As the Costa Mesa resident's English improved, she made up for lost time.

With "Green Eggs and Ham" in hand, Sanchez, 48, read the book aloud to her 19-year-old daughter.

"I'm very happy to read to her," Sanchez said. "It's never too late."

Sanchez, a native Spanish-speaker, was honored Thursday morning by the Newport Beach Public Library Literacy Services' sixth annual International Literacy Day celebration at the Central Library.

Sanchez was recognized with the Rochelle Hoffman Memorial Award for her efforts to work on her English over the last 18 months with tutor Vicky Smith.

"She's been a joy of a student to work with," said Smith, who nominated Sanchez for the award. "She has a positive attitude and is ready to take anything on."

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Hoffman, who served as a tutor from 2002 until her death in 2004, volunteered throughout her terminal illness until she was too sick to continue. The memorial award was created to honor the "learner" who made the most progress toward his or her goals each year.

About 110 volunteer tutors and about 150 learners are involved in Newport/Mesa ProLiteracy, which helps adult Newport-Mesa residents improve their reading, writing and pronunciation.

The program helps people from around the world — Italy, Russia, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and others — who don't know English as their first language, said Literacy Coordinator Cherall Weiss.

About 20% of the learners, though, are American-born, native English speakers who fell through the cracks and never learned to read and write, Weiss said.

The program's participants have achieved a number of successes this year, from being accepted to college and receiving high school diplomas to getting driver's licenses and becoming U.S. citizens, Weiss said.

"We hope this program provides a bridge to help every one of our learners over their stumbling block," she said.

Sanchez came to America from Mexico 27 years ago when she married.

She was too busy with her children to formally learn English, but began to pick up the language by watching "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on TV with her son.

Though it wasn't until her son was 5 that she realized she needed to get down to business and learn the language.

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