Learning One Million Words

Maya Ogibalina may not know more than a few thousand words in English but she knows enough to make a joke or two.

“We have this tea, ‘Sweet Love,’” says the Russian-born immigrant who now works at the Kusmi Tea Shop at the Plaza Food Hall in Manhattan. “It’s a magic drink for couples. It will stimulate your senses,” Ogibalina tells customers. “And when you say it’s a magic drink or love drink, people smile.”

Although the exchange may not mean much to her native English-speaking customers, Ogibalina’s ability to play with words is one of many new things she can do after a year of studies at the Andrew Romay New Immigrant Center.

The center, which was the vision of Hungarian-born immigrant Andrew Romay, allows recent immigrants to learn English, practice job interviews, understand American history and culture and get information on housing, health care and employee rights.

Although Ogibalina arrived in the United States nine years ago, she says she learned certain things at ARNIC that she didn’t learn at other English language schools. “It’s not very easy to find a place where you can find everything,” she said.

The center, launched in 2013 by the English-Speaking Union of the United States, is housed in the union’s headquarters in Manhattan. Since its start, the center has graduated 115 students, 58 of whom are now working full time.

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