U.Va. Employee Surmounts Language Obstacle With ESL Class

Part of an occasional series highlighting University of Virginia employees who have taken advantage of the adult education benefit.

July 25, 2011 — For Brigitte Broohm, working in University of Virginia Facilities Management– and living in the U.S. – means escape from the political problems back home in the Togolese Republic of West Africa. But more importantly, it means she has the opportunity to express herself and to pursue any dream.

The language of her homeland is Ewe, spoken by about six million people in Togo, Ghana and Benin. When Broohm arrived in the United States in 2001, she knew only very basic phrases in English, such as "good morning" and "how are you."

The English as a Second Language – or ESL – class provided by the Charlottesville Adult Learning Center and paid for by U.Va. Human Resources helped her overcome the language barrier.

As part of the ESL class, students write a story on a topic of their choosing. Broohm wrote "Two Thieves and a Donkey," published in the 15th annual "Voices of Adult Learners" booklet earlier this year, In the story, Broohm introduces the culture of her nation and her family. Her story describes how a donkey from her aunt's house was stolen twice when Broohm's family thought it had been stolen only once. She chose this story because "it is funny, but also tells people about our human nature," she wrote in the story's opening.

Since language is no longer a barrier, she is exploring other options for her future. She wants to pursue a career working with the elderly. She took a year off during her ESL studies and took courses in health care. "I want to do some things to help people," she said.

Her next step is to take CPR classes.

Currently employed as a housekeeper, Broohm works diligently and is appreciated by all who work with her, Judy Kingrea, her supervisor, said. Broohm, she said, treats every woman, regardless of her age, with the same respect she has for her mother.

Kingrea also mentioned another of Broohm's talents: sewing. She made the African dress she wore when receiving her ESL certificate.

Since 2002, the University has contracted with Charlottesville's Adult Learning Center to deliver GED and ESL classes on Grounds.

— By Julia Wang

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications