For many immigrants like Fatimata, learning English is not only a matter of communication, but a source of pride and confidence. It is an important accomplishment in their lives. Originally from Burkina Faso, Fatimata came to the United States in May of 2016 to visit her sister. Fond of the opportunities here and appreciative of the medical care she received, she decided to make her stay permanent early on. She began working as a cashier at Whole Foods Market in New York City in October 2019.
A native French speaker, Fatimata acquired the little English she knew from what she had heard at work and the words her nephew taught her at home—someone who she called her “first teacher.” Therefore, when she heard that Whole Foods was offering English classes through the English at Work program, Fatimata took advantage of the opportunity immediately.
The structured nature of a class was much more effective for learning English than casual conversation with a friend, Fatimata emphasized. She was able to expand her vocabulary, seek direct help from her teacher, and the presence of other students was both encouraging as well as allowed for better practice. She told us this course was particularly rewarding because she also learned how to use the technology used for class and homework, and was excited to be able to help classmates to troubleshoot when needed. After completing this course, Fatimata says she has an easier time speaking with her coworkers and customers. Learning English has been extremely beneficial for Fatimata in situations outside of her workplace as well.
Knowing that she’ll have less difficulty communicating with others has given Fatimata more self-confidence as well as independence, and she enters new public situations with ease. She tells us, “When I go to places like the doctor’s office now, I don’t have to be worried about requesting an interpreter or misunderstanding important information. I can do more things by myself.” With this stronger grasp of English, Fatimata is even thinking of taking some accounting courses to improve her performance as a cashier and perhaps even receive a promotion at Whole Foods one day.
Fatimata is thankful for the English at Work program, which helped her take the first steps towards learning English. She really appreciates that her employer recognized that language barriers often hold employees back from realizing their true potential and decided to offer this training to support them. Above all, Fatimata knows that the key to building on her new language skills is practice. She continues to read books in English and uses the language when speaking with people at work and with her sister and nephew. “They’re very impressed with how well I can speak now. My nephew says ‘You barely knew anything when you first arrived, and now we can have a full conversation!” It’s wonderful to hear that.”