‘We Speak NYC’ – Second Season of ELL Program Launches

Study materials for season two of NYC’s “We Speak NYC” English language learning program. (Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

A series of seven videos, study guides and various online materials will soon be made available to immigrants and other English language learners, produced by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs under the banner of “We Speak NYC.” This “second season” of videos was announced by MOIA’s commissioner Bitta Mostofi at an event Wednesday night featuring the screening of one of the videos, a keynote speech by writer André Aciman, and remarks by some graduates of the first year’s program, which went by the name “We Are New York.” The event was held at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.

Noting that New Yorkers speak over 150 languages, Mostofi said that about 2 million have limited English proficiency – and 1.5 million of those individuals are immigrants. Saying she was “so excited” about the improvements to the program, Mostofi said that scaling up would be accomplished by bringing interactive online materials “into people’s homes and in classrooms.” Last year’s program, which reached 7,000 New Yorkers with 20 hours of instruction in libraries and with community organization partners, received a positive independent evaluation in a report released by MOIA. These 20 hours of instruction, for instance, was shown to have given 85 percent of the students a stronger vocabulary. One of the recommendations of the evaluation was that ways to bring English learning to more people be explored.

Mostofi said the seven new episodes tackle “critical issues that impact the lives of everyday immigrant New Yorkers in our communities, from mental health to workers’ rights and childhood early education.” To that end, individual episodes and the curriculum were prepared to provide a “civic road map” for immigrants. How can an immigrant parent communicate effectively in a parent-teacher meeting? How can immigrants avail themselves of resources and services from the city?

In “Rafaela’s Test,” the video screened Wednesday night, a young woman scheduled to take a high school equivalency test has a panic attack and subsequently suffers from depression. Through a sensitively told story that involves her mother, her brother and her best friends, Rafaela eventually makes a call to NYC Well to get peer counseling help. Stories like these weave into them a description of the services and resources available from the city. It’s all part of empowering New Yorkers to advocate for their needs, said Mostofi, and thereby making NYC “the fairest big city in the country.”

A new website with all seven videos will be live in a couple of weeks, and all the workbooks and study guides will be available by the fall. The city spent $3 million on the production of season two’s videos and learning materials.

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