A food service worker, a loving mother of two daughters, an immigrant from Egypt—these are just some of the roles held by Enas Kirellos. What her coworkers, family members, and community may not be aware of is that she is also a tenacious English language learner enrolled in Project SPELL (Students for Progress in Employee Language Learning), a UCLA Volunteer Center initiative.
As a server at Bruin Cafe’s coffee station, Enas needs English to communicate with her coworkers and customers. Unfortunately for her, there are hardly any dining staff members who speak her native language, Arabic.
“I don’t have a choice but to speak in English at work. I don’t speak Spanish, which is the first language of many dining staff members. I appreciate the environment though, it gives me the chance to practice my conversational English,” says the Cairo native.
Enas is first-year student Feven Negussie’s first Project SPELL learner. “She is an eager learner. Her positivity and zeal is infectious.”
Enas is indeed a vibrant person. She speaks confidently now, but she shied away from speaking English as a newcomer to the United States in 2008. “It was very difficult to communicate when I first arrived here. Everyone speaks so fast. I even refused to answer phone calls because I knew that the caller and I wouldn’t be able to understand each other.”
Enas’ initial struggles in English resonate with Feven, an English language learner herself. Although Feven was born in the United States, she grew up in an Amharic-speaking Ethiopian family. Prior to attending elementary school, Feven had no knowledge of English.
“Culturally, my elementary school environment was very different from my home environment,” says Feven. “Since I only spoke Amharic, I knew I had to try five times harder than my classmates to learn English.”
Feven’s hard work has paid off, as she is now an English major with a minor in Film, Television, and Digital Media. She hopes to utilize the language skills she has gained to pursue screenwriting and perhaps acting.
Since becoming a mother, Enas has faced and overcome new challenges, such as medical appointments. “When I took my first daughter to the doctor, I didn’t know the names of any internal organs. I had to guess by pointing to different body parts. Now, I can speak in English anywhere—at the doctor’s office, at my daughter’s school, to my nieces and nephews—all thanks to Project SPELL.”
Enas’s family is her biggest motivator. “My daughters are bilingual in Arabic and English. As my first daughter gets older, I struggle to help her with her homework. My daughters are my biggest motivation.”
Feven is very proud of the progress Enas is making in the short span of eight weeks.“The word ‘elaborate’ was a difficult one for Enas. Then, a week later, she told me that she had already used it with her manager,” beams Feven with pride.
Feven advises other learners of Project SPELL not to “let the language intimidate you. We all had to start somewhere.” Enas agrees, and adds with a hopeful smile, “Keep learning and be positive!”