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Refugees and immigrants can learn to speak English at work and online through UR program


The University of Rochester is expanding English language learning opportunities for immigrants and refugees in the region at their workplaces and through online tutoring.
Hairong Shang-Butler, an associate professor at the university’s Warner School of Education, will be leading the program. She said this approach makes learning English more accessible for adult language learners.

University of Rochester
Hairong Shang-Butler is an associate professor who directs Warner’s international Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program

“We try to offer … language and cultural courses to the refugee and immigrant community,” she said. “But we realize that when they first come to the U.S., the priority is not learning English language. It's more to find a job to, you know, to support a family and make ends meet.”

It’s expected to begin in late January and serve more than 70 people in Monroe, Genesee and Ontario counties.

“The best approach to do it is to go to their workplace and to offer a program that's really culturally sustaining,” she said. “But also for the refugee population, we needed to be really trauma-informed and highly flexible.”

Shang-Butler said she is looking to hire language instructors and volunteers starting in January.

As an immigrant herself, she said she knows the struggle that many language learners go through, and that makes this work even more meaningful to her.

The program is being funded by a $140,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.