Many students from all over the world, when they’re looking to learn how to speak and read in English, are turning to The Easy English Times, a Napa-based newspaper publication.
For over two decades now, The Easy English Times has been a crucial ‘real-life’ resource for programs that are developed to enhance students’ literacy skills and English proficiency.
The newspaper is an 8-page publication that’s printed and published 10 times per year and gets distributed all around the world.
The Easy English Times contains posts on current events, citizenship, and life skills, and it also includes posts written by and on students. The paper’s pieces appear at varying difficulty levels to accommodate an array of readers and students as wide as possible.
Betty Malmgren is the newspaper’s publisher, and she started the publication together with a few other students when she realized that many ESL (English as a Second Language) classes used outdated and very expensive textbooks.
Malmgren had been a journalist herself, and she decided that bringing out a ‘newspaper’ would absolutely be a workable alternative to expensive textbooks, as it is relatively easy and affordable to do. The Easy English Times was at first only used at local facilities, but it wasn’t long before the newspaper was introduced around the country and even at far away overseas locations as Liberia and Nigeria.
The English literacy newspaper is being used in quite a few programs at, among other places, the Napa County Library in ESL class and 1-on-1 adult literacy tutoring. Yvonne Martin is an ESL teacher at the library, and she says she is using it for vocabulary, pronunciation, reading, dictations, and a lot of other instruction.
Martin says the Easy English Times is highly versatile and absolutely user-friendly. The paper is a great learning tools that benefits students, Martin says, and in a way that textbooks will not. The newspaper also offers students the opportunity to submit their own articles, which, if they are published, makes them proud so they can feel like real authors.
Take a look at, for example, David Meza, 71, who lives in Napa. He is one of Yvonne Martin’s ESL students. David is originally from Mexico, but he has been living in Napa now for more than 30 years. He’s been doing field work like pruning vines, mowing lawns, and driving a tractor. Meza says for him it’s pretty hard to learn English.
He is retired now, and made quite a few friends through the years, and he says he wants to learn English to be better able to communicate with more different people. Simple things like consulting a doctor could get difficult if he is not able to answer questions or understand answers properly, he says.
Meza says that one of the reasons why he waited so long to learn English is that, when he first came to the U.S., he was hardly able to read in Spanish. They just never taught him.
Robin Rafael is literacy coordinator here at the Napa Library, and he says that adult illiteracy poses a real problem, even among native English speakers. He says that in Napa County alone, there are more than 13,500 functionally illiterate adult persons, meaning they’re lacking the basic literacy skills needed for practically all jobs and everyday situations.
The library’s literacy program is using a combination of real-life materials, including the Easy English Times, and textbooks.
Because the newspaper is covering current subject fields and issues interesting to adults, the students are usually more engaged and interested to read it, says Rafael. The volunteer tutors at the Napa Library, and not just there, are really liking the Easy English Times because the paper is making them feel that they’re treated as actual adults.
The Easy English Times allows learners to develop a more complex awareness of current events without being too difficult to understand.
The Easy English Times’s 20th anniversary issue included an article on the selection of Harriet Tubman to appear on the new $20 bill, and also an article about U.S. immigrants who had been fighting during World War I.
This issue contained student contributions coming from various California communities like Fairfield, Vallejo, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Diego, and Calistoga, as well as from cities in Ohio. Michigan, and Illinois.
Editing and publishing The Easy English Times is really a labor of love, says Betty Malmgren. She and St. Helena-based editor Lorraine Ruston do all the work themselves.
They write articles, and they are packaging and mailing the newspaper issues as well, but Malmgren says that the fact that now students are given a voice, is probably the most rewarding aspect of doing this work.