(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
PALMETTO – As she sat at a table Tuesday evening in Holy Cross Catholic Church, Teresa Heffner shared details of her journey with the English language.
Heffner’s 19-year-old daughter, Ivonne Hernandez, came to show her support and echoed her mother’s progress with English over the past few years.
“I’m proud of her to see her do things for herself and trying to better herself,” Hernandez said.
She remembered her mother’s frustration in the beginning.
“Now when I talk on the phone, she’s like ‘I know what you said — you’re talking about me’ or ‘I know what you said — what happened at school? I heard that,'” Hernandez said. “She’s learned a lot.”
Three years ago, Heffner began studying under The Language House, an all-volunteer organization that teaches English as a second language. The program is supported by Manatee County’s Neighborhood Services Department, Library Division and Holy Cross Catholic Church.
“My experience with (The Language House) instructors so far has been very good,” the 48-year-old said. “I was impressed because my first instructor was very patient for everything.”
Originally from Mexico, Heffner said she hopes to apply for U.S. citizenship.
Having a better understanding of the English language helped the permanent resident in her job at the Bealls Distribution Cen
ter in Bradenton, she said. Although she’s learned a great deal, verbs remain tricky for Heffner.
“In my job I have lot of friends who don’t know much English,” Heffner said, adding she now understands more of what’s written at work.
Heffner was one of nine graduates honored in the program’s third annual student recognition night. Students completing their English language course work include: Heffner, Gineth Lube, Juanita Maldonado, Maria Hernandez, Maria Sanchez, Sabina Gomez, Guadalupe Zuñiga, Pedro Martinez and Veronica Vasquez.
Alan Gedeon heads The Language House with his wife, Silvia Gedeon.
“Probably the most daunting task I think they have is — once they’ve made up their mind that they want to learn something — is finding the time to take it,” he said. “Almost all of our students are working parents. They have jobs so it’s sometimes very difficult to not only sit two hours twice a week in class but then go home and practice what we preach.”
When Maria Sanchez began at The Language House, the mother of three said she only knew the basics such as numbers and colors.
“I can now put sentences together with verbs,” the 33-year-old Palmetto resident said in Spanish.