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Monthly Archives: October 2015

It’s Time to Stop Wasting Talent

James ArcherBy James Archer

At The ShareLingo Project in Denver, we see a lot of immigrants in our English and Spanish classes. We like to learn more about each other, so we ask what they do, and often we get responses like:

  • “In Mexico, I was a system’s analyst.”
  • “In Bolivia, I was a lawyer”
  • “In Peru, I was a musician”

When we hear this, we encourage the people to change their thinking, and to say, “I AM a system’s analyst. I AM a lawyer. I AM a musician”. Moving to this country doesn’t change what you are, any more than me moving to Costa Rica would make me not an Engineer.

Unfortunately, being able to WORK in one’s profession is often another matter. There are far too many professionals here in the USA (and, indeed, around the world – have you seen what is happening in Europe?) that are working in very basic jobs, rather than in their professions, and I believe that this is a terrible waste of talent.

In one of our ShareLingo classes here in Denver, I met Maria, a systems analyst that came to the United States from Mexico. When Maria moved here, she got a job cleaning hotels, and she told us that one day, a guest at the hotel asked her for a pillow. She didn’t know what a pillow was, but the woman just kept saying, louder and louder, pillow, Pillow, PILLOW! The closest word Maria had in her vocabulary was Pelo (hair) so, not knowing what else to do, she brought the guest a hair brush. That didn’t go well – for Maria, or the guest, or even the Hotel. Clearly, Maria is not stupid, but the guest, because of her frustration, made Maria feel inadequate. It gave her incentive to study hard, learn English, and get out of the hotel and back to computers.

But for some people, that’s not possible.

After ten years here in Denver, Blanca, a lawyer from Bolivia, still works the deli counter at Target. Blanca’s story is a little different than Maria’s. Like Maria, Blanca is working hard to learn more English. Her kids are all fluent in both English and Spanish now, and she was just blessed with her first granddaughter, so Blanca couldn’t be happier in that regard. But she knows that the only way she will ever become a lawyer here in the USA is by being fluent. Blanca is passionate about lots of causes, but can’t use her talents to address them. The time and expense needed to practice law in this country may be beyond her means. I think it’s a shame she couldn’t find work in the legal field, in spite of the enormous need for trained lawyers here in our country that understand the problems and can work with the immigrant communities.

Think about it. Suppose you are a Doctor, Plumber, Engineer, Welder, Systems Analyst, Nurse, or Teacher. Whatever it is, you’re good at it. Now, suppose that, for some reason, you decide (or are compelled) to move to a different country. Maybe it’s to be with family, or for health reasons, or you hate the government – whatever. But you move. And when you get to your new country, where you have such high hopes, you find that, due to lack of language skills, or because your credentials are not recognized, you can’t get a job within your profession. What would you do? Would you work in a deli? Would you clean hotels, or people’s houses?

To put a quick financial perspective on this idea, suppose your company hires a 100K/year civil engineer from Chile for a 20K/year-cleaning job. In my mind, that’s an 80K/year waste of talent.

I’m hope you will agree that we, as a society, MUST help immigrants learn English, and give them a path to work within their professions.

I am happy that, partly with the help of The ShareLingo Project, Maria and Blanca now speak English and are able to tell these stories and look towards the future.

Do you have a story like Maria or Blanca?

Did you, or your parents, or someone you know set aside a profession when you or they came here?

Or, if you’re from here, have you been to another country and tried to work in a professional job? Did you speak the language of that country?

Please join the discussion. Tell us your story.


About ShareLingo
The ShareLingo concept is really simple. Instead of learning from a white board or a computer, we help English learners meet Spanish learners for face-to-face practice together. A bilingual facilitator uses our method and materials to keep things moving so you are never bored. We have language learning solutions for individuals, businesses, non-profits, and schools. Learn more at www.sharelingo.org.

Why #iShareLingo

MaraGonzalez500By Mara González

Eight years ago I left my home in Chihuahua, Mexico to come to Denver, Colorado. My goal was to learn English in one year and go back home to find a better job that would help me pay for college and support my mom and three siblings.

I thought that if I knew some English, I could be a secretary at the maquiladora (factory) where my mom works in Chihuahua, and make a bit more money than I was making as a cashier at a tiendita (little grocery store).

Once I got to Denver, I realized that despite my love for the language, learning English was not as easy as I thought! I could understand quite a bit, but my constant frustration with not being able to communicate was killing me! Every time I tried to say something in English, I got a big nudo en la garganta (lump in my throat) and began to cry. I felt stupid.

I was afraid that others would make fun of me because of my accent.

If you knew me then (or now) you may have noticed that I love talking with people, so can you imagine how hard it was to not being able to talk with others? I was miserable. However, I did not let my frustration get in the way, and as soon as I started trying I realized that I was not alone.

During my journey learning a second language, I have been blessed to encounter people who believe in me and who want me to succeed in life.

Poco a poco (little by little) I began to accept myself and laugh at my silly mistakes. I knew I was smart; I just needed to be patient. I am always asking questions, listening to others’ pronunciations, and don’t mind at all when people correct me! I actually welcome their feedback and ask for it.

My teachers, family, and friends are always challenging me to improve my vocabulary, and to speak up. Now I am often told that I speak a little too loud in English, but that is true in Spanish too!

I have worked hard to learn English, to communicate with others, and to strive to be myself in a second language.

I am grateful for all the people who have helped me along the way. Practicing another language is crucial and I am certain that I would not have been able to improve and learn English so quickly if it weren’t for all the native English speakers who were and continue to be willing to help me.

Learning a new language is hard, but not impossible, and it is much easier and fun if you immerse yourself in the culture of the language you are trying to learn. My plan was to be here for only one year. Eight years later I am still here, learning and improving as much as I can.

I encourage you to try! If I am able to learn a new language as an adult, tú también! (so can you!) I invite you to join the ShareLingo movement and let us know why you share lingo.


About ShareLingo
The ShareLingo concept is really simple. Instead of learning from a white board or a computer, we help English learners meet Spanish learners for face-to-face practice together. A bilingual facilitator uses our method and materials to keep things moving so you are never bored. We have language learning solutions for individuals, businesses, non-profits, and schools. Learn more at www.sharelingo.org.