One local company is partnering with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to help bridge the communication gap between their English and non-English speaking employees. Allisa Cardella is the training and development generalist at Lactalis American Group, Inc. – a U.S. subsidiary of the world’s largest dairy organization with operations in Belmont, Wisconsin, and completed her Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate in May from UW-Platteville. Cardella is developing an English as a Second Language (ESL) course at Lactalis. During the spring semester, Cardella was a practicum student of Dr. Yuanyuan Hu, professor of English/TESOL. Two other TESOL practicum students, Kyla Sprain and Dominick Perry, served as teaching assistants.
Cardella implemented the ESL course in March 2020 after realizing how COVID-19 was impacting the language barrier. Currently, there are about a dozen learners, with the program focusing on teaching workplace English.
“This a very educational experience for my students,” said Hu. “It’s essential for us to reach out to those individuals who are facing challenges due to the pandemic, especially with a language barrier, and offer assistance, and for my students to practice what they have learned in the classroom in real-life settings. It’s helping people and improves students themselves. It’s wonderful.”
As the ESL course embarks on its second year at Lactalis American Group, Cardella notes how much her students have already progressed. Cardella is continuing to work on the structure of the program and foresees the program growing as new employees join the company.
“We want to make sure we offer development opportunities to employees,” she said. “As [our employees] gain more proficiency, we can start talking about other topics besides workplace English. We hope to get more into the conversation piece, grammar and pronunciation aspects of language.”
Sprain, a senior English major and Spanish and TESOL double minor from Mineral Point, Wisconsin, began the process of setting up her practicum hours last fall with Lactalis. As a teaching assistant, Sprain met with Cardella weekly to discuss language topics and created presentations and activities for the class. Prior lessons at Lactalis have focused on short and long vowels, pronunciations and sounds, and minimal and constant pairs.
“I used my Spanish skills to help translate messages between the students and Allisa, as well as to provide clarification when needed,” said Sprain. “Working with these employees and using my Spanish with them every week in meaningful and authentic conversations has helped me to improve my Spanish speaking skills quite rapidly. And most importantly, it has been rewarding to make connections with these people, to learn about them, their families, their reasons for learning English and to help them stay motivated and excited about language learning.”
Lactalis American Group is a food manufacturer, and according to Cardella, the class needs to be flexible to accommodate the employees’ work schedules for all three shifts.
“We do have operational needs and there are times when we are busier, so business comes first. We try to offer the class at least one time a week for an hour,” she said. “We hope to add another class in 2021. I hope we can accomplish that. It would be really exciting.”
Meeting the needs of the students can be challenging, said Sprain, because the students have different levels of English proficiency. However, she emphasizes how important the hands-on experience has been, especially teaching fellow community members.
“Working with local businesses and programs, the students at UW-Platteville are able to see how getting an education in TESOL teaching is able to help those directly around them,” said Sprain. “It allows us to meet face-to-face with members of our community and learn about the challenges they’ve faced here in relation to their language barrier. This creates such a strong bond between student and teacher. For me, it really helps drive me to put in 110% and do my best to help these people in the time that we have together.”
“You can have all the schooling in the world and go through all these different scenarios, but until you get into the real-world environment and are dealing with learners and curriculum, you really then get to see what it’s like,” added Cardella. “In addition, you are helping your community, you’re helping fellow individuals that are within your community to communicate better. To offer something like that is so rewarding.”
As interest in the ESL program at Lactalis expands, Cardella is now looking forward to continuing working with her professor.
“The plan is to continue to partner with Dr. Hu and UW-Platteville,” said Cardella. “Hopefully, we will have different opportunities to have UW-Platteville students come in and serve as teaching assistants and get experience about what it would be like to teach English to speakers of other languages.”