WILLMAR -- Antonio Vazques of Willmar has an important reason for learning English in the classrooms of Willmar's Adult Basic Education program.
Vazques, 36, owns Estrella Bakery in downtown Willmar. He said he believes his already successful business could do even better if he spoke better English.
"It's very important to my customers," he said. Speaking English is helpful when he goes to Minneapolis to pick up ingredients, too.
For the other Willmar residents in Barb Johnson's English as a Second Language class, their reasons for learning English are connected to jobs, education and family. Regardless of the motivation, they keep showing up at Jefferson Learning Center to improve their vocabulary and speaking skills.
The students' English words were clear as they answered questions last week. When someone searched for a word, classmates helped out. Johnson sat back and observed the interaction with a smile on her face.
"It is difficult for me to speak English," said Annia Llanes, 36. When asked why she's studying English, she said simply, "It is necessary." It's needed for good communication and to get a good job, she added, and she's doing it for her two children, so she can speak English when she visits school.
Victor Bucio, 48, plans to get a commercial driver's license with his improved English. It's also important to him, he said, because he lives in this country and "I need communication."
Jorge Flores, 20, may be the best English speaker in the group. He attended Willmar schools and comes to Adult Basic Education to practice and to learn more words. "I'm learning a lot," he said. He practices English with his friends, he said, but most of the time, "I speak Spanish."
Marcelina Alcannaz, 55, said she practices speaking with her daughter. "She teaches me English; I teach her Spanish," she said.
Television has been helpful for Doris Mejia, 27, who said she also practices her English with friends. She sometimes listens to a program in Spanish while reading English subtitles. Other times, she listens and reads in English, and "I understand the movie."
Maria Contreras, 42, is working hard on her English at the same time she is studying for her citizenship test. "It is necessary for citizenship," she said. She hopes improving her English will help her find a better job and get to know more people.
"The teacher is very good," Contreras offered, and others agreed.
Johnson beamed at her students and told them how well they had done in an impromptu English conversation. She said she enjoys hearing their stories of being able to help other Spanish speakers when they go to a store.
"They are hard workers, and they are very good about helping one another," she said. "I think that makes a difference."