Winning Student Essays 2015 – Congratulations!


The Language of Love

by Marta Miley

When I met Michael for the first time I was in Publix. I never saw him before because I was bagging groceries and he was working in the meat department. I remember he was looking at me, and he said hello. He asked me something, but I have no idea what it was. I said, “I’m sorry, I no speak good English. I have no idea what you say.” He asked me about where I came from and how long I have been here. He asked me if I have children.
“Yes, I have a nice boy, and he is the reason I am here,” I answered.
He talked to me every day for the next three months and then asked if I wanted to go out to dinner or to the beach. He gave me his home and cell phone numbers and said, “When you want, call me.”
Time passed. He said, “I’m waiting for your call.” I told him I threw away the paper and he gave me another one. I told him, “One reason I haven’t called is because I don’t speak English and I don’t know what to say.”
Two months later, on Martin Luther King Day, he had a day off. I said I would go have lunch with him. He made me feel like a queen, opening the door for me. I couldn’t read the menu, so he ordered for me. He helped me. I feel so important because he takes care of me.
After we dated for a year, we were at a friend’s birthday party, and my son was with us. My son did not like seeing me with any man; but, at the party, I saw Michael talking to my son about the toys and the kitty, and that night, when we were back home, my son said, “Mom, I like this man.”
During the party, Mike asked me something that I didn’t understand. Mike said he wanted to marry me. He said, “You do want to marry me, don’t you?” I said yes.
On June 14, 2015 we celebrated twelve years of marriage. I still learn things about him and we still have fun. When I make a mistake in English, he says, “Don’t worry Sweetie. I understand what you’re trying to say.”
But many times, we laugh because we really don’t understand what we’re trying to say to each other. For example, once he asked me if I wanted to go to a movie and then play pool. I thought he meant swimming, so I was surprised when we went to a bar and he showed me a “pool” table.
We have a happy marriage. Being in love has transformed the world around me. Life is good, life is perfect.
And I still have the paper with his phone numbers.

second place


By Dorotea Chavez

My name is Dorotea. It’s been six years since I arrived to this country. My first days were very difficult. At the beginning I was homesick, and missed my family and friends. I wanted to return to my country. But as the days passed, I saw my children happy. They were making new friends, learning the language very quickly, and were happy in school. I said to myself, if they are happy and learning, I have to do the same. For me it was more difficult because I had to fulfill my responsibilities and had to find a job to help my husband with costs, since in those days it was very hard living through the worst stage of the economy in this country.

My husband lost his job, and with three children to feed, I did not give up. It was difficult when I was looking for a job. I was frustrated when I saw the work applications and could not understand them, or how to fill them out. When I was finally called to work, I did not know what to say or how to respond because I did not know English. When there were conferences at school I had to ask for a translator, but felt my answers and questions were not expressed clearly. It filled me with sadness and frustration; and I said, “I am never going to learn.”

It took these situations to motivate me to learn English. I saw in the church announcements that there were English and conversation classes at Dunedin Library. But I wondered how I could participate if I didn’t speak English. I went, and now I feel lucky I attended. I also met my tutor. Her name is Carol. She helps me a lot and gives me class an hour before conversation sessions. She taught me how to read with proper pronunciation and write in cursive, and she encourages me. I can say I have two languages even though I still need to improve and learn more, but I know I can.

I am not afraid to express myself at work and in my children’s school. Learning helped me get my driver’s license and now I’m going for my citizenship test. Learning English has opened doors of opportunity. I lost the fear and take chances. I can go to appointments at the clinic and my children’s school and speak English without a translator. My tutors motivate me to continue. I am grateful to all those who are part of conversation class for their support, help and dedication to teach people like me. It feels great when you know how to reply and not stay silent.

I never spoke English in my country because only Spanish is spoken. I know it is difficult but not impossible. Today I can say it was worth it. Thanks to all who have supported and motivated me–my husband, my children and my teachers. Today I can say I don’t feel mute and can express freely.



My Two Different Countries

by Mathilde Yapi

My name is Thilde. I am thirty years old. I have lived in Florida since 2013 with my husband and my two daughters. I come from Ivory Coast in west Africa, which I prefer to call, Cote D’Ivoire. Its capital is Abidjan, where I lived for fifteen years.
There are sixty ethnic groups in my country. French is the official language. Because of the socio-political situation in Cote D’Ivoire, we left our country to settle in Florida. Cote D’Ivoire and Florida have the same subtropical climate. They are two beautiful countries, but with many differences in their cultural traditions.

When my family got here, we found differences in the way people are received. The Americans just give us a wave of the hand. In Cote D’Ivoire, we greet people with embraces. Here, I’ve never had neighbors who tapped on my door to tell me, “hello”, something that is downright different in Africa.

In Cote D’Ivoire, we are more hospitable. This brings us to open the main doors of our homes. We have a culture that brings us closer to one another, to touch, to show solidarity. We see ourselves as one big family. We have a sense of sharing. Here in Florida, the doors of the houses are closed. There is individualism.

The food of my country is not easy to find in Florida. When I want to cook African food, I go to Tampa to buy some items. It is really expensive. We have a variety of foods such as, foutou, (plantain with eggplant sauce) and toho, (corn flour with okra sauce). In Africa, we prefer to eat with the family from the same plate. But, here in Florida, we changed our old system. Each person has a meal on a plate. We use a lot of dishes!

My daughters go to school at Belcher Elementary School. Classes begin at 8:30 in the morning and end at 2:30 in the afternoon. In Cote D’Ivoire, classes begin at 8 a.m. and stop at 12:30 for the children to go home for lunch. Classes resume at 3:00 p.m. and finish at 5:30 p.m. Here, my daughters were facing problems because they had no uniforms to wear. They always have to change clothes. In Cote D’Ivoire, the students wear a uniform to distinguish them from other students. I appreciate that the school provides breakfast and lunch for the students. My daughters do not like to get up so early so they eat breakfast at home.

I like the U.S.A. because it is a mixing of people. I am learning to read and speak English with my tutors. My daughters have a better future. I, also, like that the infrastructure is much developed.

After a year and ten months in Florida, I have nostalgia for my country. I remember my everyday life in Cote D’Ivoire. My parents, my brothers and my sisters miss me. I think I’ll go back to my country one day to relive the good memories.


Reading Horizons Elevate


Linda Grimshaw, LCUP Reading Horizons Administrator

My Experience with Reading Horizons Elevate

I was skeptical when Pat asked me to look at the Reading Horizons Elevate program for phonics. I learned to read, many years ago, using phonics, so I wasn’t sure why we needed a new method. Couldn’t we just use the original teachings, updated for computer use?

I looked at the Reading Horizons webpage and thought, “This looks ridiculous. Why not just sound out the word like we used to? The “S” sound, then the “T” sound, and so on. I remember drills on letter sounds. I can still hear the whole class hissing like snakes for the letter ‘s’ and buzzing like bees to make the ‘z’ sound. Day after day and year after year, drill, drill, drill on phonics.

Our clients don’t have years to learn English. Some of them don’t have time to meet with a tutor twice a week for ninety minutes. They have busy lives, work, chores, children, but they can find twenty minutes here and 20 minutes there.

So at Pat’s urging, I decided to take the online workshop course. It’s free from the Reading Horizons website; they say it will take two to four hours, but it took me longer. I have to admit it was hard for me at first. Marking a five-letter word with lines with arrows, ‘X’s’ and stars, the short or long vowel mark, and arcs under letters and a ‘rainbow s’ or ‘rainbow j,’ and a line crossing out a vowel seemed silly. It took me a while to see the benefit.

Then it dawned on me. It seemed silly to me because I already knew what the word was. I knew what it sounds like, how to say it, I knew what it meant, and I knew how to spell it. How? From those hours and days and years of drills!

But I tried to look at it from my student’s point of view. She’s from Colombia and speaks Spanish, so she’s mostly familiar with our alphabet. She doesn’t have hours a day or years to learn to speak English, so we need to accelerate the learning process for her. With Reading Horizons Elevate, she spends as much time as she wants to at home, learning the sounds and rules of our crazy language. It works for her.

She hears the sound of a vowel, sees an image of the mouth forming the sound, she can record her response and hear it played back so she can compare it to the proper pronunciation. Then a consonant is added to the vowel and a new sound is made. Another consonant is added, and it’s a word. Again, she hears it, she sees the mouth forming it, she records herself saying it, and listens and compares the pronunciation. And at the same time, she’s learning the meaning of the vocabulary.

And we can spend our time together on other topics, such as how to write number words on a check and how to leave a message on an answering machine or voice mail. We study social phrases and warning signs, important things in her daily life. When her debit card information was stolen, she was so proud that she could talk to the bank personnel and straighten out her account. That was partly due to our time together, but I also think she developed some self-confidence from improvement in her pronunciation.

Reading Horizons Elevate works, both for the student and the tutor. You’ll love it!