Story #31

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Horatio G. – Building his future
through language

BronxWorks Adult Literacy
English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program

His teacher, Janis Levine, describes him as “like Clark Kent in Superman.”  Monday to Thursday, Horatio is a diligent student, arriving for ESOL class promptly at 9 am.  One wouldn’t guess that he comes straight to class after being up all night driving a taxi.  Horatio’s often very tired, but it doesn’t stop him from working hard in class or from maintaining near perfect attendance, making him a sort of “Superman” of learning and working.

Horatio moved to the US about seven years ago due to the political situation where he lived in the capital of the Dominican Republic.  Politics in his country are such, Horatio notes disapprovingly, that if you don’t agree with the party in power, your opinions are silenced and you can’t work a government job.  A trained agronomist, Horatio had good jobs working both for the Dominican Agricultural Institute, a government agency, and as a principal and teacher at a high school.

Soon after he arrived in the US, Horatio began English classes at the local library.  In 2009, he earned his citizenship, but his commitment to English didn’t stop there.  About two years ago, when he passed the levels offered by the library, he found intermediate classes at BronxWorks where he’s continued his hard work.  Once the spring cycle ends in April, Horatio and Janis expect that he will have surpassed the highest level offered by BronxWorks and will move on to advanced classes offered elsewhere.  Horatio has learned a lot from Janis and his BronxWorks classes, particularly the things he finds most important for everyday life, like communicating with his English-speaking doctor, using a map, and ordering off a menu.

Why does he want to keep studying?  “First,” he says, “I like languages.  Through languages you learn more about the world.  Second, to involve myself in and better understand the world around me.  And third, to try to get a different job.”  Janis says she can tell that “Horatio is definitely a lifelong learner.  He loves learning and always comes to class with interesting questions.”  Beyond this, it’s Horatio’s career that’s pushed him forward.  Despite his high level of education and literacy in Spanish, his English has hampered his ability to find good work here, which is the case for many ESOL students, Janis notes.

“I want to improve my English so I can get a job that’s less dangerous,” Horatio says, as he fears being assaulted while driving.  “I miss the work I had,” he says, adding that “I have to train my ear” because he feels more confident with English writing and reading than listening.  Horatio says, “I have a lot of knowledge of agriculture but my English is still lacking” to do that work here.  At home, Horatio teaches himself the technical vocabulary that’s relevant for his profession, which he describes as “self education.”

In addition to a full-time job as a taxi driver and attending his ESOL classes, another interesting element in Horatio’s life is that he regularly writes opinion pieces for the Spanish-language newspaper El Diario.  Since about 2007, he has been submitting short articles on a variety of topics – mainly Dominican politics, but other themes include his three children, bilingualism, and childhood obesity.  A recent piece, which he brought in to share with his class, is on Obama’s State of the Union and Senator Marco Rubio’s response.  Horatio is very engaged with the news, politics, and is constantly reading books he gets from the local library, bringing his intellectual curiosity to share with the rest of his English class.

Thanks to terrific BronxWorks staff, partners, and friends that make the ESOL program possible, Horatio has made BronxWorks ESOL classes a key part of his lifelong learning and quest for self-improvement.

BronxWorks ESOL classes provide life skills English language instruction to assist non-native adult English speakers to acquire sufficient language abilities to raise the quality of their lives with outcomes such as entering the workforce, job training or post-secondary education, improving current jobs, and becoming citizens and more productive and integrated community members.  Questions or comments? Send them to

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