April 27, 2015
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Launch of First in the Nation Pilot Program Providing Immigrants Free English Training Via Mobile Phones

TOP Governor Cuomo Announces Launch of First in the...

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today at the Daily News Citizenship NOW! phone bank event hosted at CUNY Stella and Charles Guttman Community College announced the launch of a pilot program to provide free English-language training via mobile phones to hundreds of immigrant in New York State who may lack regular access to a classroom, a computer or the Internet. Learners will gain access to self-paced audio and text lessons through their personal cell phones. The program will initially reach farm workers in three areas: the “dairy belt” in both the Finger Lakes and North Country regions, and downstate in the Hudson Valley and New York City where immigrants face transportation challenges. This is the first state program of its kind in the country.

“Anyone that wants to learn English should have the opportunity to do so,” Governor Cuomo said. “By dramatically increasing the chances for people to learn and practice English, we are making it easier for them to improve their economic livelihood and build a better life. I am proud that New York is launching this first-of-its-kind program and leading the way in expanding opportunity for all people.”




“A lack of transportation or a demanding day of honest work should not be a barrier to learning English,” said New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales. “I applaud Governor Cuomo’s dedication to helping immigrants fully participate in our State’s civic and economic life.”

“We are excited about this new effort because it will not only help create stronger links between these New Americans and their communities, but it will also help the millions of New Yorkers who depend on the products and services these hard-working immigrants provide,” said Richard A. Ball, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) has partnered with social impact venture Cell-ED to provide customized mobile English-language training. The training combines voice tutorials and messaging services that allows for two-way interactivity and instant feedback. A learner simply calls a Cell-ED number from his or her cell phone, listens to a lesson, reviews the lesson received via text and texts back responses. The learner receives additional support and moves on to the next lesson. The program is free to the learner (excluding minutes and texts billed at the rate of the users cell phone plan) and available at any time of the day.

“We're thrilled to be working with New York State to make learning English more convenient, engaging and effective for New Americans,” said Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, CEO of Cell-ED. “We are extremely confident that New Americans participating in this initiative will gain higher levels of English language literacy, as well as the increased sense of accomplishment that comes with self-paced, self-directed learning.” 

Farmers and farm worker advocates identified English-language training as an important barrier to growth in the New York State farming community at the 2013 Yogurt Summit. That finding of need was echoed in the work of the Governor’s Council on Food Policy. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and New York State Department of Labor are working with ONA to reach farm workers with this program in the Finger Lakes and North Country regions. The State agencies are working with community partners the New York Farm Bureau, Literacy Volunteers of Wyoming County, Agri-Business Child Development, and Cornell Cooperative Extension to enroll farm workers in the program and provide follow up assistance, when necessary. The Hudson Valley and New York City program partners include the New York Immigration Coalition, the Hispanic Federation and Catholic Charities.

“One of the best ways to help immigrants play a productive role in the economy and become citizens is to make it easier for them to learn English,” said Jorge I. Montalvo, Director of the New York State Office for New Americans. “These easy-to-use lessons use a mobile phone’s audio and texting systems, which are available on the least expensive types of phones that low-wage immigrants are most likely to have and will give immigrants a chance to learn English, opening the door to new opportunities.”

“On our family farm, we identify communication as a key to reaching our business goals,” said Sarah Noble-Moag, Director of Noblehurst Farms Inc. “The success of our business is directly related to the performance of our employees. Our workers are motivated to learn and develop their skills. We here at Noblehurst Farms credit Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Ball for championing this English as a Second Language program, geared specifically to adult learners, which will strengthen the language skills of our Hispanic and Bhutanese employees,” said Sarah Noble-Moag, Director of Noblehurst Farms Inc. “Cell-Ed is an excellent tool for personal growth on the job and to ease their full participation in our communities.”

“By supporting this initiative, Governor Cuomo and the Office of New Americans demonstrate their understanding of the challenges faced by New York State’s farmworkers, such as linguistic and geographic isolation,” said Maggie M. Evans, Agri-Business Child Development Executive Director. “This initiative addresses these challenges and will help farmworkers on the path toward English language acquisition. Agri-Business Child Development is excited to be a part of the Cell-ED mobile English-language training program.”

“We applaud Governor Cuomo and the Office for New Americans for this creative technological initiative as a means to address the barriers that many New York immigrants face to gaining adequate English language training," said Steven Choi, executive director at the New York Immigration Coalition. "This initiative provides a new opportunity for hardworking immigrants to learn English on their own terms.”

"We commend Governor Cuomo for his leadership in launching this initiative,” said Jose Calderon, President of the Hispanic Federation. “This innovative program will assist the Latino community in accessing English language instruction at a time that works best for them. Our immigrant community is extremely hard working, holding down more than one job at a time with unconventional work schedules. Through Cell Ed, immigrants interested in increasing their English language abilities will not have to miss out on instruction by utilizing this tool that will work around their schedules. We are extremely excited to offer Cell Ed to our network of ESL service providers.”

The Cell-ED mobile English-language training program builds on Governor Cuomo’s efforts to strengthen the State’s food shed and grow our agricultural industry. The Governor’s two summits focusing on the state’s wine, beer, and spirits industry, and his summit focusing on yogurt resulted in immediate regulatory changes that have helped these industries to grow and prosper. Governor Cuomo’s Taste NY program has broadened the reach of New York agriculture and exposed these products to a worldwide audience. The Governor initiated a $1.5 million program is help low-income seniors purchase fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets. Through the New York State Office for New Americans and Department of State, New York State provides critical financial support to important agricultural immigrant entrepreneurship programs as well as business and workforce development projects, including a farm ownership incubator, in New York State’s Southern Tier. 

The English-language training program also continues the Governor’s commitment to immigrants in New York State. Previously, the Administration suspended participation in the federal Secure Communities program when concerns were raised about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York. The Governor issued Executive Order 26 requiring State agencies that provide direct public services to offer free interpretation and translation services to members of the public for vital forms and instructions. Governor Cuomo established the New York State Office for New Americans to assist newcomers in the State who are eager to contribute to our economy and become part of the family of New York, and made history by making the Office for New Americans the first state-level immigrant office created by statute in the country.

Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office

NYC Press Office:  212.681.4640

Albany Press Office:  518.474.8418