Many immigrants come to the United States for greater educational and professional opportunities, and to open such possibilities for their children. But to thrive, immigrants need English skills. For Mercedes, English at Work has given her the English abilities she needs to communicate comfortably and confidently with her customers.
Mercedes emigrated from Peru to the United States 11 years ago with her family and has only been working at the Whole Foods Market in Darien, Connecticut for 10 months. In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercedes lost her job working as a cook on a school campus. As schools shut down, she and her family were making by on unemployment benefits. Soon after, Mercedes saw an exciting position open at Whole Foods that seemed to fit perfectly with her “dream” and “hobby”: decorating cakes.
But taking the step to apply as the Bakery Department’s Cake Decorator was a bit daunting. “I see that position that was my dream to get. But I’m a little scared because my English is not too well. But I said, ‘I’m going to try!’” After receiving the position, Mercedes’ store manager was “very comforting and supportive”. Mercedes often told her manager that she was afraid of interacting with customers, fearful of not understanding their orders or what they wanted. Her store manager assured her that she will learn slowly and meanwhile they could just find someone to translate for her. “But that’s not enough for me because I’m still scared.”
Knowing how committed Mercedes was to improving her language skills, her store manager informed her about the free English at Work classes right as enrollment began. Mercedes signed up immediately. “I just want to improve my English! And it was a great decision.” Dedicated to her study, Mercedes improved her English pronunciation and increased her vocabulary. Additionally, the industry-specific lesson plans and role plays helped her learn how to provide great customer service and how to speak to customers. Mercedes has gained confidence communicating with shoppers, both in-person and over the phone.
“Now I have more confidence to answer the phone because the customer calls through the phone. I have to answer! Before, I was scared, and I don’t want to pick up the phone and say nothing. But now, I have more confidence to answer.” Although relatively new to her job at Whole Foods, Mercedes shared that English at Work equipped her with the skills needed to perform her job better, which brings her a lot of satisfaction. “I am happy because I am doing my things with more confidence.”
Mercedes is extremely grateful for the opportunities provided by her employer. She explained how her previous company offered workers little support with their education, despite knowing many of them struggled with English. “Now, it’s just 10 months! And the store is worried about us. So, they say, ‘You can’t speak English. You can go to this program.’ Everybody can go. Everybody can learn.” The online classes have truly advanced Mercedes’ English skills, and she is appreciative of Whole Foods Market for offering their employees free English courses along with the support they need to grow in their roles.
“I want to thank everyone who worried about us immigrants because we come to this country to work, to work hard. And English is an essential thing we have to know. It’s this program [that] helps us to learn more, to improve our English.” Mercedes thanks her employer, supervisors, and colleagues for supporting her learning endeavor. She will use her refined English skills to better communicate at work—both with customers and her team members—and in her everyday life.
The National Immigration Forum would like to thank AnnaLisa Barlin, Integration Programs intern, for capturing this story.