Learning a new language

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 6:24 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - 122, that’s how many students who are enrolled in Bismarck Public Schools who don’t speak fluent English.

To help them adjust to a new school, new language and new culture, BPS uses an English Learners Program to help students feel their way through school with new sounds and words.

Souwede has already lived in many different countries, and he can fluently communicate everywhere he’s been thanks to the English Learners program at BPS. BPS employs 14 teachers and 14 aids to help students immerse themselves in the English language.

“A lot of students come in frustrated and very proud of their home language, which is wonderful which we want to encourage. So it’s very difficult for some to start speaking in English, but once they become comfortable it’s almost like they only want to speak in English,” said Rebecca Andvick, an English Learner Elementary teacher for Bismarck Public Schools.

Souwede once needed the help of an electronic translator and visual aids like picture boards to communicate with his teachers and classroom aids but not anymore.

“It was kind of hard, but I learned a few words and I had to use a translator. Now the translator I don’t need it anymore because I know how to speak English really good now,” said Souwede a second grader at Pioneer Elementary.

The kids taught span the globe and collectively speak over 55 different languages.

“We have a lot of different languages in Bismarck, our community is really diverse as far as the families moving in. Spanish is a language spoken by a lot of families followed closely by Chuukese,” said Kayla Ekart, the English Learner Program Coordinator.

Even before learning English, he said he was able to make friends.

“They wanted to play with me even if I didn’t speak English, and they asked me if I could be their friend and I said yes. (It made me feel) happy because I got more friends and now, I can talk with them better because I know English,” said Souwede.

Souwede still works with his teacher Miss Andvik on perfecting his linguistic skills. English isn’t even his second language, it’s his fourth. He knows Soninke, Susu, French and English.

He is just one of many students thriving thanks to the help, and care of his teachers.

Souwede lives here with his mom, dad and little sister and says he wants to be in the military when he grows up.

The English Learners Program serves 390 students in Bismarck, and an additional 80 are monitored for continued success. Program Coordinator Kayla Ekart says she only sees the program growing and the need for teachers and aids expanding as well.