English learners battle language obstacles amid COVID-19

MADISON, Wis. Living with COVID-19 precautions presents its own challenges, but imagine navigating a pandemic while you're still learning English.

Madison’s Literacy Network is working around the clock to help English language learners study and understand important information.

The Literacy Network serves nearly 1,000 people per year. For the majority of English learners at the network, Spanish is their first language.

"Lo importante de aprender ingles porque puedo leer libros en ingles. Me puedo comunicar mejor y entender major," Gilmer Chan, English learner said. Translation: It's important to learn English because I am able to read books in English. I am able to communicate and understand better."

Chan has been studying English for a year.

"I need to practice a lot,” he said.

If you catch him in his free time, you'll find him buried in a book.

"I can read very well. I can understand very well but the accent is the issue," he said.

He said he's a lover of literature and his daughters are his motivation to keep learning.

Chan said rapidly changing Coronavirus orders and new laws present new challenges, and it's creating fear in communities where there's a language barrier.

"They are scared a little bit because they don't understand very well why this is happening and how it happened," Chan said.

"It's heartbreaking to know what's going on with on with our students and not feel like we can do anything face to face with them," Jeff Burkhart, Literacy Network Executive Director said.

He said the team's goal is to keep teaching by phone and mail to combat these challenges.

"Information is coming at them really quickly and it's changing rapidly and there's not a lot of time spent in ensuring people can understand that information," he said.

Burkhart said its vital city and state leaders put out information in multiple languages.

"Literacy is literally access to resources. If you don't have the ability to communicate, you're not going to be able to find the resources you need," he said.

"My goal is to become fluent in English language. This has opened the door for me to get a better job with more opportunities," Chan said.

Visit Literacy Network’s website. for resources and options for English language learners.