As immigrants continue to swell Montgomery County's population, some residents of the foreign-born community say they are determined to assimilate into Washington suburban life by learning English.
Marlene Ringler, coordinator of Montgomery County's English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, said "there are 90 languages represented in the various schools. It is not unusual to walk into a room of 20 students and hear 15 languages being spoken."
ESOL, which is part of the county's Adult Basic Education program, lost $1,700 in funds this school year because of a rollback in school subsidies to the education program by the federal government.
"We received $83,500 for the ESOL program for the current school year," said Dr. Frank Snyder, director of the county's department of adult education. "This is $1,700 less than last year. As a result you have more people who are paying a fee."
Carroll Ruark, adult education specialist with the department of adult education in Montgomery County, said the fiscal pinch reduces the number of programs Montgomery County is able to offer its foreign residents.
"If more funds were available we could probably provide more programs. The need certainly exists out there," he said. "We might have to say to someone, 'I'm sorry, you'll have to go to another center and we'll try to absorb you there.' "
The tuition for the current semester is $44. This includes a twice-weekly, two-hour class plus any instructional materials necessary for learning. The least literate students in the beginning classes are not required to pay the fee; however, payment is required as students advance through the program's higher levels.
"The thrust of the ABE program is to serve the least literate in English," Snyder said. "We use the money from the federal government to conduct the beginning classes, and as a person advances, they must pay the fee."
There are three levels of placement in the ESOL program: beginning, for students not able to read, write or speak English at a minimal level; intermediate, for students who studied English in their own countries and completed the beginning course, and advanced, for students who show proficiency in speaking, reading and writing English.
Snyder said there were about 1,900 students enrolled during the semester that ended in January. He also said there are a large number of special "contract programs" throughout the county--agencies or private industries who instruct their non-English-speaking employes at work.
Karen McNally, of the community relations unit of the Montgomery County police department, said she has not encountered any friction between ethnic groups in the ESOL classes. McNally, who is fluent in Spanish, lectures the immigrant students on the laws and customs in this country.
According to 1980 census calculations, there are about 22,790 Hispanics in Montgomery County, with the largest population living in the southern section. Between June 1980 and June 1981, this area received about 20,000 to 30,000 immigrants over and above the normal growth rate, McNally said. (The normal growth range was estimated at between 28,874 and 31,087.)
Jesus Galindo and Monica Villardino are two ESOL students in who have nothing in common except for their language (Spanish) and their dates of arrival (about a year ago) in the United States. Galindo and Villardino's paths cross at their twice-weekly English lesson at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
Galindo immigrated from El Salvador to escape his country's civil war. "There was too much shooting, kidnapping and murdering," he said. "The day my wife and the rest of the family left for the United States, my neighbor was kidnapped." Galindo does not know what became of him.
The 44-year-old toolmaker has worked for his family all his life. He gave up dreams of becoming an engineer because he could not afford the college tuition. "My parents were peasants and I had to go to work when I was 13 years old," he said.
Education remained a priority for Galindo, however, and after completing high school he continued on to technical school and became a machinist.
With an infectious grin, he boasts of the small machine shop he managed to buy a few years ago in the small town of Soyapango, outside the capital, San Salvador. There he and his family led a humble life until barely surviving became a day-to-day guessing game.
Galindo describes his life before the war as "rather quiet." With his wife, Blanca, and their four children, he managed to stay afloat with the shop, instead of having to work in the fields like generations before him.
But about four years ago life became very dangerous. "It was difficult to tell the difference between the guerrillas and the government soldiers because they sometimes wore the same uniform," Galindo said. "You didn't know who or what they were."
Galindo was mostly afraid for his children. "They were sometimes in real danger just going to school," he said.
Galindo currently earns $5.75 an hour cutting plastic and other material for Read Plastics in Rockville. In his spare time, he studies English.
"I know that without English I cannot do much here," Galindo said. "In my country I was making the equivalent of $7 per hour. Learning English is the key to success."
Galindo was a volunteer in the Catholic church in his town, helping to run marriage counseling clinics and distributing food and Bibles to the poorer peasants.
"The government was always menacing us," he said. "They thought we were all Communists."
One day Galindo was in Santa Clara, a town 10 miles outside San Salvador, when a building blew up six blocks away. "It was too dangerous to be out in the streets," he explained. It was time to leave.
Soon after, he sent his wife and children to stay with relatives in Silver Spring. A year later, Galindo sold his small business and headed for America himself.
Galindo said he is amazed that social and cultural barriers are broken down inside the classroom where he studies English. "One time we had an Israeli and an Egyptian in the same class," he said, "and they got along fine . . . . They were friends."
Fellow student Monica Villardino, 21, came from Uruguay. But unlike Galindo, who fled his country to avoid the dangers there, Villardino has led a life of relative comfort and security.
Relaxing in her family's 14th-floor apartment in Chevy Chase, Villardino looks like a typical college student. Wearing blue jeans, powder-blue polo shirt and sneakers, she says she is here because her father, an assistant naval attache' for the Uruguayan government, has been assigned to Washington.
Villardino recently finished a six-year Uruguayan education program equivalent to an American high school curriculum. She says she would like to continue her education some day, perhaps in physical education, but that going back to school is not a priority right now.
These days, "My friends and I go to nightclubs and dance," she said. "Then sometimes we just go over to each other's house and have parties.
"In the summer I go to the beach quite often and usually stay at a resort or my cousin's house," she said, assuming the relaxed position of a sun worshipper basking on the Uruguayan beaches.
Villardino found out about Montgomery County's ESOL program through a newspaper advertisement. "I enjoy talking to the other foreign students," she said, "especially those whose families work in the diplomatic corps, too."
Her criticism of the language program is that students are expected to "learn too much from the books. There's not enough conversational English practiced in the two hours," she said.