News & Blog: Learner Stories


A visa lottery in Ethiopia brought Frehiwet Asfaw, her husband, Luel, and their young son, Tito to Lansing, Michigan. Luel’s sister had a house in the Lansing area where Frehiwet and her family could begin their new life. Frehiwet and Luel worked hard to build up savings for their family. She worked at a food packaging company, a toothbrush manufacturing company, a salon product supplier, and at the airport.

Frehiwet, a native speaker of Amharic, did not learn English in school. Rather, she began picking up the language by listening to English speakers at each of her jobs.

“The sounds of some words were the same,” Frehiwet said about the English language. “The Amharic word for water—pronounced woo-hah— is similar, but the way people say it in English, waddder, was hard for me to understand.”

After feeling confident in their ability to navigate life in Michigan, Frehiwet and her family moved to Jenison to be near Luel’s second sister. Luel’s sister had an American-born husband who offered to help sponsor the family.

Frehiwet began working in Grand Rapids until her second daughter, and later her third daughter, were born. She heard about the one-on-one tutoring program at the Literacy Center of West Michigan and registered.

“The best part of tutoring is listening to my tutor speak English,” she said. “I am able to hear the sounds.”

Frehiwet has been meeting with her tutor at the Barnes and Nobles in Woodland Mall for eight months and has made great progress. She has increased her vocabulary and her phonemic awareness, which has improved her overall ability to communicate in English. Frehiwet’s next goal is to study and prepare for the citizenship test.


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