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Easy English Times aims to improve adult literacy

Easy English Times aims to improve adult literacy


There are students the world over who, when they want to learn how to read in English, turn to a Napa-based publication, Easy English Times.

For two decades, Easy English Times has been used as an important “real life” resource in literacy and English programs. The eight-page newspaper is printed 10 times a year and is distributed all over the world.

The Easy English Times includes articles about current events, life skills and citizenship, and it even showcases student writing. The pieces are written at varying levels of difficulty in order to accommodate a wide array of readers.

Publisher Betty Malmgren started the newspaper along with a few others after realizing that there were English as a Second Language classes that were using outdated and expensive textbooks. Having been a journalist herself, Malmgren decided that a newspaper publication, which is easy to produce, would be a good alternative to textbooks.

The paper was used only locally at first, but it didn’t take long before the Easy English Times was being requested across the country and from such overseas locations as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Easy English Times is used in several literacy programs at the Napa County Library, including an ESL class and one-on-one literacy tutoring for adults.

“I use it for dictations, vocabulary, reading, pronunciation – you name it,” said Yvonne Martin, who teaches an ESL class Friday mornings at the library. Martin said that the newspaper is versatile and user-friendly. It also gives the students an opportunity to submit articles, which, once printed, makes them feel like celebrities, she said.

“It’s very exciting and thrilling for them,” Martin said. Students get to share their stories as well as receive acknowledgement and recognition. “It’s very powerful.”

Learning tools like the Easy English Times benefit students, she said, in ways that textbooks cannot. Students like David Meza, 71, of Napa.

Meza, one of Martin’s ESL students, is from Mexico, but has lived in Napa for the last 30 years. He used to work in the field doing things like pruning vines and driving a tractor, he said.

“It’s hard to learn English,” Meza said. Although he is now retired and has made many friends over the years, Meza said that he is interested in learning English so he can communicate better with more people. Simple situations like going to the airport can be difficult if he is unable to answer questions asked of him, he said.

Meza said that one of the reasons he has waited until so late in life to learn English is because, when he came to the United States, he could hardly read in Spanish. He was never taught, he said.

Adult illiteracy is a huge problem even among English speakers, according to Robin Rafael, literacy coordinator at the Napa Library. Rafael said that there are an estimated 14,000 functionally illiterate adults in Napa County. That means that they lack the literacy needed for most jobs and many everyday situations.

The literacy program at the library uses a combination of textbooks and real-life materials, including the Easy English Times. Because the newspaper covers issues that are current and interesting to adults, learners are more interested and engaged when reading it, Rafael said.

The library’s volunteer tutors like the Easy English Times because it makes students feel like they’re being treated like the adults that they are. “The Easy English Times is a paper that allows my learner to have an awareness to current events that is complex enough not to insult the learner yet is easy enough to understand,” said one library tutor.

May’s 20th anniversary issue includes articles on Harriet Tubman being selected to be on the $20 bill and immigrants who fought in World War I. Student contributions came from Vallejo, Santa Rosa, Calistoga, Fairfield, Santa Cruz and San Diego in California as well as Illinois and Ohio.

About 5,000 copies of the Easy English Times are printed each issue and distributed, with more readers enjoying the paper on the Web, Malmgren said. The cost of the newspaper for classrooms, which includes a teaching guide and other materials, is $1 per copy plus shipping and handling.

“It’s a labor of love,” Malmgren said. She and her editor, Lorraine Ruston of St. Helena, do everything themselves from writing articles to packaging and mailing them. One of the most rewarding things about doing this work, though, is being able to give students a voice, Malmgren said.

The 20th Anniversary Special Edition of the Easy English Times is out this month.

For information, visit or call 707-253-9641.

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Maria Sestito is the former Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She now writes for the Register as a freelancer.

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