New Americans immigrating to the United States often find themselves overcoming immense hurdles, including learning the English Language.

Fortunately, Adult English Learner Programs are available to assist immigrants and their families when moving to the United States, including in North Dakota.

Valarie Fischer, Director of Adult Education with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, says Adult English Learner Programs serve individuals 16 years of age who are no longer enrolled in High School.

“We work closely with Lutheran Social Services, new immigrants and refugees,” says Fischer. “We have quite a few individuals who come to North Dakota from neighboring states, and often, straight from their country of origin. When they arrive, they want to work, so we try to get them a job and teach them the English skills they need.”

Fischer says at first, the English skills taught to new Americans may be basic, but new language competency is learned through observation and participation.

“One of the major barriers is simply our culture and way of life. If for example, we use a phrase most of us our familiar with, such as, ‘I put my foot in my mouth’, an immigrant may take that phrase literally. It can be a challenge for anyone learning our language to understand those nuances because the English language is hard. Often, we find new Americans originating from isolated regions may not know what a crosswalk is, so moving to America, especially the Midwest, can be difficult. We try to first teach them both the skills and words they need to in order to live and function in our communities.”

When new Americans resettle, they are networked with language services by immigration relocation services including Lutheran Social Services. Once placed in a program, adult education workers try to identify immigrant’s job skills. But because there are often no international standards for vocations, especially nursing, immigrants are often forced to aquire additional training and education to pursue a job (or similar job) they previously worked in their country of origin. \

Fischer says that often, an individual who may have worked as a nurse in another country, may in fact, only possess the skills equivalent to a CNA in America. In those situations, Fischer says Adult Education Programs carefully work with healthcare employers to help familiarize immigrants with their workplaces, often offering them entry level positions in areas such as food services. As immigrants become more proficient in their skills, they can work towards CNA certification, and potentially, enroll in college to pursue a nursing degree if they choose.

“They are very hard workers,” says Fischer. “And because they move here to pursue a new life, they do not perceive any positions ‘beneath them’, they use them as a stepping stone towards a better life in America.”

For new Americans with families, English Language Programs are available in North Dakota’s public schools.

Lodee Arnold, Assistant Director with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction’s office of Indian/Multicultural Education, says programs exist for students in Kindergarten through High School, with the goal of having students exist in 5-7 years.

Arnold says one of the challenges English Learner programs currently face is budget cuts. And with over 116 languages represented in North Dakota alone, assisting students becomes an even greater challenge.

“We want to pilot a program that uses a two-generational approach where parents learn English skills with their kids,” says Arnold. “The children and their parents are worth the investment in North Dakota.”

Due to budget cuts, both Arnold and Fisher hope to partner with employers to establish programs for graduating students and adults to assist in finding positions. Several employers in North Dakota work with new Americans by absorbing the costs of education in training new Americans, in exchange for hard-working, dedicated employees.

“We do recognize that healthcare is really an untapped market in North Dakota,” says Fischer. “We need to partner with those employers to help everyone. There is such a potential to partner with hospitals and clinics to provide services for English learners including job skills or English skills in general.”

For more information on North Dakota’s English Learner Programs, visit their webpage at the following link: Readers can find English Learner Program lcoations by visiting this page:

For additional assistance, readers may also contact Valarie Fischer or Lodee Arnold for more information.

Valerie Fischer
Director, Adult Education
(701) 328-4138


Lodee Arnold, Assistant Director
Office of Indian/Multicultural Education
(701) 328-1876