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Student interns learning English language skills

Paulo Spinola, of Brazil, is improving his English speaking skills this summer. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)


Students arriving for English as a Second Language classes are far from the traditional. Instructor Linda Uscola greets people from across the globe, and this summer is no exception.

In early July, some of the students with internships at Bergens Nursery west of town arrived for class, the numbers growing after they shared their experience with peers. The students – in their 20s – eight males and eight females – are college students or graduates. The seven Brazilians speak Portuguese; three Haitians communicate in French Creole and the six Ukrainians speak Russian.

Their majors include agronomy, horticulture, forestry and agri-forestry, Uscola would learn.

They joined a Mexican and Guatemalan who work at RD Offutt and are adept at grasping the complexities of English, Uscola said.

When one of the first questions posed by the Bergens students was the names of soil types in English, Uscola determined, “I’m in trouble… Sand, clay and dirt,” weren’t going to satisfy her agrarian experts-in-training.

The Brazilian, Haitian and Ukrainian students, who arrived in early March, wanted to learn more about their majors while becoming proficient in English.

“They are two goals, but intersect,” Uscola reasoned.

Uscola, who speaks German, Portuguese, Spanish and Norwegian, decided to bring in the experts.

Ordinarily, class meets once a week. But when Uscola learned the internships would conclude in September, she added a second class per week, and set up an ambitious schedule for the Advanced ESL students.

She narrowed subjects to flowers, organic farming, non-organic agriculture and forestry.

The Park Rapids area is home to “unbelievable resources,” that she tapped.

“I called in the experts. I hit the DNR Fisheries and Forestry, the Soil and Water Conservation District, U of M Extension, Itasca State Park, Badoura Nursery and Forest and Floral.” Tours are scheduled throughout the summer, with experts in agronomy, forestry and fisheries arriving in the classroom to share knowledge.

The “don’t be late” field trips are interspersed with a “normal” ESL class where subjunctives and conditional language is introduced, along with separable verbs – and tests.

When she initially questioned the students on goals, improved speaking of English was paramount.

Up until 15 years ago, language was book learning, Uscola explained. “Reading, writing and grammar. That’s not usable.

“The teaching process switched to conversational and interaction. The students want information and vocabulary,” she said.

The first 10 to 15 minutes of class is a bombardment of question upon question, she said. “What’s the difference between a thief and a robber, may and might, can and could?”

A student said he was told if you put “to” before a noun it becomes a verb – to table, to fish, to flounder, to fight, as examples.

They asked for proper use of using past tense – I drove, have driven, was driving.

And homonyms – taught and bought, new and knew – the English language is rife with them.

“The emphasis is on speaking,” she said. “You don’t know a language until it’s spoken.”

Uscola asks the class to look at comparative cultures, spawning “in depth discussions” on topics such as obtaining a driver’s license and voting, students telling her voting is required, or it goes on an individual’s record.

This week, they departed for Itasca State Park Tuesday with experts speaking on forestry Thursday. The class is divided into thirds and invited to ask questions.

Next week they head to the Badoura Nursery, then it’s back to language review. August will find them touring the Secret Garden and RDO Farms with “normal classes” following to prepare them for certification testing.

They are “definitely enthusiastic,” she said of her cadre of “nice, nice kids.” And armed with a sense of humor.

Uscola, introducing past tense and conditional statements, said, “You lost money. Where did you lose it?”

“I don’t know,” Paulo Spinola of Brazil said, chuckling. “If I knew, it wouldn’t be lost,” he quipped.

For many of the students who arrived from big cities, Park Rapids seems rather small “but very developed.”

“The people are friendly,” said Artem Holyshevskyi of the Ukraine, who hopes to make a stop in New York and Chicago before leaving.

“But there are no night clubs,”Brazilian Lucas Yamashiro said, although they have discovered Zorbaz.

“People are friendly, interesting,” said Spinola, who holds a degree in agricultural engineering.

“Winter was new for me,” he said of experiencing snow for the first time.

They will depart before snow arrives again, friendships developing among the international interns.

But they’d like to broaden their social network to include people from Park Rapids, they agreed, while improving their English speaking skills.

“I want explanations,” Spinola said of the aberrations and anomalies inherent to the English language.