PRINCETON — When Sana Mazhar of Pakistan and Abeer Salem of Yemen arrived at Princeton Senior High School, they knew almost no English, but they recently graduated after mastering one of the most difficult languages to learn.
The class English as a Second Language (ESA) measures proficiency in English – being able to speak it, read it, and write it – on a scale of 1 to 5, according to teacher Molly Robinette. One equals not being able to speak English at all, and 5 means being proficient in English.
“We just had a student who came in as a 1, which means no language, no reading, no speaking, no listening, no writing skills at all,” Robinette said a few days before graduation. “She spoke only Urdu. She came in as a ninth grader and as a 1. She has tested out now to a 5. She’s fluent, she’s proficient in English in all four areas. That’s a first time for a Princeton High School student.”
During their time at PSHS, Mazhar and Salem both increased their English rating from a 1 to a 5, Robinette said. Younger students usually pick up English as their second language more quickly; then they share their new language skills with their older siblings.
“Now if they’re younger, you know, they come in as a first grader, they learn more readily and we have many kids like that throughout the county,” Robinette said. She looked to the other students coming into class. “Many of these kids had younger brothers and sisters in grade school and, of course, they’re going to learn more quickly and take less time to test out.”
Mazhar, now 19, said she was among the top 15 graduates in her class. She came to the United States about four years ago and plans to attend Bluefield State College. She was still deciding her major.
“Something in science, maybe nursing,” she said.
When it came to learning how to speak English and write in English, learning how to ask questions was one of the more difficult tasks, Mazhar recalled. Robinette said the language’s traits can be puzzling. Salem said listening while other people spoke English was a help when it came to learning the language.
“‘Ms. Rob, why are there three theres: there, their and they’re,” Robinette said. “‘Why are there three tos: to, two and too.”
Salem, now 20, is thinking about majoring in business when she attends college, and said learning to listen to and understand English was a challenge, but Mazhar credited Salem with helping her master the English language.
When Mazhar and Salem received their awards, the entire student body gave them a standing ovation, Robinette said.
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