VOL. 133 | NO. 156 | Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Bridging a Gap
By Patrick Lantrip
Speaking through a translator, Luan Bomfim said he misses his family and friends back home in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “A lot of times I think I’m going to go back to Brazil, because the people here are very different,” he told Connect Language Center operations manager Bailey Gilbert in his native Portuguese.
Sadly though, Bomfim’s sentiment is pretty common among immigrant populations, not only in Memphis but around the world.
Unrelated to age, immigrant status represents a heightened risk for loneliness, according to a 2016 study published in the European Journal of Ageing. An excerpt from the study, titled “Migration and changes in loneliness over a 4-year period,” states, “International transitions inevitably involve leaving former relationships behind. Immigrants are forced into a new reality in the host culture, in which their prior norms, values, language and customs become less relevant.”
Luan Bomfim, left, a Brazilian expat living in Memphis, speaks with Richard Dalton, education director at Connect Language Center, about enrolling in fall classes for 2018. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
While it’s certainly not the only barrier, language can be one of largest hurdles many immigrants face when attempting to assimilate into American culture.
So it was partly with this in mind that the Connect Language Center was founded by David Frazier and Richard Dalton.
“For a long time, a lot of people in the ESL (English as a Second Language) community have just seen a gap between what is offered at the university and what is offered with a lot of nonprofit programs,” Dalton said. “While they see the need and want to make English accessible, it’s difficult to bring the quality of the university to something that doesn’t have any funding.”
After Frazier and Dalton began developing the concept of the center last November, they were contacted by World Relief Memphis, a nonprofit organization serving the local refugee community, which offered to make this goal a financial reality.
“They approached us and said, ‘we’ll basically give you what you need to start if it under World Relief,’” Dalton said. “Traditionally in the last six years, (World Relief Memphis) has done refugee resettlement, but now they are on this journey to do more than refugees now also.”
Registration for the inaugural round of classes at the Connect Language Center began Aug. 6 and classes will start Sept. 10.
To host the classes, Dalton and Frazier were able to secure roughly 9,000 square feet with the Redeemer Baptist Fellowship at 5340 Quince Road in East Memphis.
Initially, they will be offering five classes with multiple proficiency levels that will cover topics like English for Life and Work, Speaking Well in the US, ESL and Film, and Friday Morning Book Clubs.
Lela Figueroa (bottom center), plays with her little sister as her mother Brissethe (top right) speaks to Bailey Gilbert about enrolling in ESL classes at Connect Language Center. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
In addition to the structured classes, Connect Language Center will also offer private lessons, which they are working with local business to develop, and TEFL, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language, classes for native English speakers who are looking to teach abroad.
“Connect Language Center is about connecting people through language, building cross-cultural friendships and building a better city,” Frazier said. “We’ve started Connect Language Center because we believe welcoming and connecting with internationals builds a stronger and healthier city.
“English proficiency empowers immigrants to succeed at work and integrate into their new communities.”