Church teams up to teach refugees language skills

When refugees arrive in Utah from battle-ravaged and unstable countries, they typically are placed in English classes for an hour or so a week. Motivated refugees may get as much as 45 minutes a day studying the new language.

But such short barrages of English don't cut it for most refugees, particularly those who aren't literate in their own languages, says Gerald Brown, director of Utah's Refugee Services Office.

"You could almost argue it doesn't help at all," Brown says. "It just frustrates people."

That realization led the Utah office to team up with the LDS Church, Granite School District and the English Skills Learning Center on a one-of-kind project: intensive English classes for on-the-job refugees.

Since October, 100 refugees speaking 17 languages have been "associates" at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Humanitarian Center on Salt Lake City's west side.

Half the refugees spend their weekday mornings sorting and packing clothes for shipment overseas, cooking and cleaning in the center's kitchen and packing hygiene kits.

The other half spends the morning -- nearly four hours -- in English classes, divided according to the refugees' proficiency.

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