Martha’s Vineyard Adult Learning Program provides a new path

MVALP students celebrated their achievement. Left to right: Francisco Neto, Marie Helene Vidal, Magno de Souza, Kellis Conceicao, Leni Goncalves, Giovanni Preciado, Sergio Racig, Xiuh Sanabria, Tatiana Zakharova. — Photo courtesy of Jeanne Burke

The Martha’s Vineyard Adult Learning Program (MVALP) celebrated the completion of its 13th year of teaching English to adult immigrants with a ceremony at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center on April 5.

In attendance for the presentation of certificates and awards was Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent of Schools James Weiss, school financial administrative assistant Janet Sylvia, teachers and other educators, community partners, students, and numerous family members, friends and supporters of the program.

This year’s student body was comprised of students from 11 different countries who all now call Martha’s Vineyard their home.

Giovanni Preciado, a student in the advanced class, and originally from Colombia, South America, shared with the audience his story of learning the English language.

This beautiful language

“When I lived in my home country of Colombia, I always had a fascination with English songs. I was always singing and repeating sounds like a parrot without understanding the words. One day I took a dictionary to translate one of the songs that I liked best. ‘My God,’ I said! The title of the song was ‘maggot brain’ and referred to someone who enjoyed his adventures with drug addiction, yet after more translations I also discovered the beauty in the lyrics of songs like ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong or ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon that are like beautiful poems.

“On another occasion, my parents gave me a Christmas present. A toy plane that included a complex instruction manual in English; to everyone in my house it was like hieroglyphics. My toy was kept in the box for two years until I finally took it to a store to assemble it. Even with this help there were several left-over pieces.

“As a child when I saw television series from the United States such as ‘The A Team’ or ‘The Wonder Years,’ I saw that the movement of the actor’s mouths did not match what they were saying. The sounds I heard were not their original voices and their words were translated into Spanish. I always wanted to hear the original voices because the Spanish translations looked distorted.

“As a young boy in my school, my first English teacher would turn to me articulating sounds totally alien to me. It was a magical experience; it was as if she came from another galaxy, another world that I wanted to know. I ended up falling in love with her, but she never knew.

“Today I can say that I have deciphered much of this beautiful language. Although I still make many mistakes, I believe that I improve each time I go to this school.

“This school represents great diversity, full of flavor and life histories. A place where I discovered many people that though born speaking a different language, are brought together by a beautiful bridge that is English.

“It is wonderful when I speak in English and a native English speaker understands me. I feel like someone special; I can answer the phone without fear. I can build a thousand toy airplanes and I can watch re-runs of my favorite TV series and movies without the distortion of dubbing. I also sing with confidence knowing I am saying the right words. Finally, thanks to all who are part of this program, especially my excellent teacher Nicole who is very patient with all of us, and my classmates with whom I have built great bridges of words in the language of Shakespeare.”

MVALP offers classes in English to speakers of other languages at six consecutive levels, from beginner through advanced English. It is supported by a grant from Adult and Community Learning Services of the Massachusetts Department of Education, and by donations from the following local businesses: Ocean View Restaurant, Offshore Ale, Little House Café, Linda Jean’s Restaurant, The Wharf, Dock Street Coffee Shop, Mansion House Hotel, Reliable Market, Lattanzi’s Restaurant , and The Ashley Inn.

Jeanne Burke is the director of the MVALP. For more information about classes, visit the Adult Learning Program webpage at