Rio Salado College sets groundwork for English-learning program in Sonora

Last fall in Mexico, a national mandate was established to help Mexican students learn English, including in Sonora, Arizona’s closest cross-border neighbor-state. For the first time, future teachers in Sonoran teaching colleges were required to learn English. The rule is not limited to future English teachers–instead, it’s now a requirement for all teachers of all subjects.

In addition,  those in the program will have to pass an English exam in order to earn their degree in full.

The Sonoran government tacked on 21 full-time English professors to teaching schools in 2018, also known as escuelas normales. And while this may seem like an aggressive move, it opened the door for opportunities to boost partnerships in not only education, but cross-border, bi-national business relations.

This is where Tempe-based Rio Salado College comes in. The Maricopa County Community College put together curriculum for its own English-teaching program for schools throughout Sonora in order to boost English proficiency. The program consists of four levels of English courses designed to support students at the beginning levels of English proficiency to more advanced levels, according to Kate Smith, president of Rio Salado College.

While the main goal is for students in the program to build a solid understanding of conversational English in and out of the classroom, it’s the Sonora-based instructors teaching those students who have the most potential to learn and grow in the language by seeing it through multiple lenses and levels.

“The teachers will benefit by increasing their English language skills, providing additional teaching strategies for use in their classroom, and supporting the success of their students in learning content area materials in English,” she says.

Currently, the curriculum is all set, but the program hasn’t officially started yet. But while class isn’t necessarily in session, so to speak, the potential to build bridges over language barriers could have a massive effect on business and social relations between Arizona and Sonora.

“This is something that people in Sonora and businesses there desperately need. There’s such a large proportion of job creation there that’s connected to foreign direct investment. Having bilingual people speaking English is a huge asset for the entire state,” Luis Ramirez, economic advisor to the Arizona-Mexico Commission said. “There’s a premium on anyone who speaks English in Mexico. Particularly when you’re in a border state when visitors come across; it’s essential when you want to be truly successful in business.”

Mexico is Arizona’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade landing around $17 billion in 2018. Plus, visitors from Mexico contribute 60 to 70 percent of sales tax revenue in Arizona border communities. Nearly 3.6 million visitors come from Mexico into Arizona, representing the largest segment of international tourism to Arizona, according to numbers from the Arizona-Mexico Commission.

For students speaking English in Mexico, it could open more doors to better jobs and more opportunities for schooling, especially here in the United States. From scholarship to study abroad programs in the U.S., students from Sonora can not only fulfill a language requirement, but already literally be speaking the language when it’s time to jump into their careers and advance into managerial positions down the road.

Nick Esquer

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