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Literacy New Jersey helps adults become U.S. citizens

In 2018, almost 200 Literacy New Jersey students were granted U.S. citizenship, meaning they can register to vote and do so for the first time, and become more active members of their communities.

Chin Vivian Hsieh is a 53-year-old woman who immigrated to the U.S. six years ago from Taiwan, and among her most challenging experiences here was just walking into a shop and go to the checkout counter.

She was scared, and thought people were saying ‘What’ya doing’, while they actually were saying ‘How’ya doing’. It was, in fact, this small misunderstanding, just one simple word, that made that she didn’t venture out on most days.

Finally, Hsieh joined a Literacy Volunteers group on English conversation and started to work 1-on-1 with a tutor from Literacy New Jersey in Middlesex. It was only then that her life begun to change for the better. In 2016, Chin Vivian Hsieh became a U.S. citizen. She says she now wants to vote for the American presidency, and that she likes the American life, the possibilities, and the freedom.

Hsieh is just one of the over 5,000 adults that benefit from Literacy New Jersey’s services each year. Literacy New Jersey is a statewide network of nonprofit organizations that offer tutoring in reading & writing, speaking English, and mathematics. Literacy New Jersey is actively recruiting, training, and supporting its volunteer tutors through specialized programs.

Vivian Hsieh’s feelings of fear and isolation are nothing not unique, according to Elizabeth Gloeggler, Literacy New Jersey director, and if adults lack also basic English language skills, they often cannot communicate with their kids or teachers, and patients could very well also not be able to read instructions on a prescription bottle, or know what their healthcare provider is telling them. So basic literacy skills are vital and Literacy New Jersey’s volunteers are working hard to improve this.

Hsieh had immigrated to the U.S. in 2010 in hopes to provide her two children with a better education. She went to Middlesex County, New Jersey, so she could be close to her sister-in-law, while her husband stayed behind Taiwan, working as a commercial printer to support his family financially.

The Literacy Volunteers English conversation group taught Hsieh basic phrases so she could get her life on track, and later, she took U.S. citizenship lessons. After Hsieh had been on a waiting list for quite some time, in 2015 she finally was matched with a Literacy New Jersey tutor, Betty Schwartz, who helped her with individualized, 1-on-1 tutoring in English writing, reading, and speaking. Schwartz, a recently retired elementary school teacher with 38 years of experience, became an adult literacy teacher to let other people benefit from her professional expertise, skills, and experience.

Schwartz, who lives in Woodbridge, says that as a teacher, she was working with young children, but that when she started tutoring adults, she was taken into a whole new world. Now I’m building up friendships, and it feels more like working together, as there is no hierarchy. In fact, I am teaching them American culture and language, while I’m learning about their culture at the same time.

Betty Schwartz joined Hsieh to her U.S. citizenship class, so she was able to help Hsieh get all set for the test through personalized guidance. Today, they are continuing their 2-hour meetings at the local library to improve her reading, writing, and pronunciation skills.

Since becoming a U.S. citizen, Hsieh says her goal has been the improvement of her pronunciation so she can speak English in everyday situations in a comfortable way. She says her English is fair, but that her pronunciation needs improvement because when she speaks, not everybody gets what she means to say.

Betty Schwartz says she’s impressed with Hsieh’s commitment to speaking and writing English better. Hsieh is not only receiving tutoring, but attends a weekly English conversation class as well, and she’s using a computer program as well to practice.