Foreign Policy Magazine

Language Haven

For young newcomers, the first step to becoming American is learning English.

BALTIMORE—On June 29, 1987, Jermin Laviera attended her first English-language lesson still wearing her wedding dress. Though she had just arrived in Baltimore from Venezuela eight days earlier, acquiring the ability to communicate in her new home was so important that she went straight from her nuptials to class. Laviera still has a photograph of her 28-year-old self in the white patterned gown, a look of exhilaration in her brown eyes as she proudly holds her most valued treasure from that day. “Not a ring,” she says with a smile. “It was a book.”

Thirty years later, Laviera manages a

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