Free English classes welcome more immigrants and refugees than ever before!

It was early 2023 when the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded ILI a new five-year grant in support of our free English classes for immigrants and refugees. The grant allowed a much-needed expansion of this long-time, vital program.  

So starting in September last year, we increased seating capacity in the classes by 72% over 2022. Learners can now choose from more evening online and in-person classes at levels from basic English to our Bridge to Careers and College advanced course (sponsored in part by United Way of the Franklin and Hampshire Region). And in the new morning intensive class, they learn for three hours every day over a three-month span, rather than six hours a week throughout the traditional school year.  

We hired a new program director, brought a second part-time student career and education counselor on board and hired three additional teachers well experienced in ILI’s student-centered methods. All of this means greater access to equitable education opportunities for all as we welcome immigrants and refugee English learners from around the world.

On behalf of students, many thanks to the state as we enter our 36th year of partnership. And kudos to the hundreds of individual and business donors, as well as local foundations, who helped make all of this possible in 2023.

Two men smiling with students in the background.
Many people around a table.

Community volunteers in training, led by ILI’s Laura Robinson. In 2020, ILI’s volunteer program earned international recognition from Points of Light and certification as a Service Enterprise Organization from the Massachusetts Service Alliance. 


By the end of 2023,

  • 219 immigrants and refugees from 41 countries speaking 31 languages, now living in western Massachusetts, were gaining new language skills in ILI’s free English classes.
  • 65 English learners had teamed up with 54 ILI volunteer tutors for 677 hours focused on pronunciation, reading, writing and understanding—key to achieving the students’ education and career goals. 

International student enrollment surpasses pre-pandemic levels!

It’s great to welcome international students back to the U.S., including right here in Northampton! What a pleasure to see classrooms filled for 21 hours a week with avid English learners seeking a hometown experience, marked by plenty of small city amenities and varied outdoor experiences. Yes, also some big city life in NYC and Boston just a few hours away. 

International students who focus primarily on language learning need a student visa. And we can help. We are accredited by ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training) based in Washington, DC. Therefore, we can issue the form I-20 document that is needed before a visa can be issued in the student’s home country. 

We also partner with 12 colleges and universities through our university pathways track. The certificates that international students earn in our intensive English course satisfy our partners’ English requirements and relieve the students of taking burdensome English proficiency tests. And last year, we provided on-campus support for international students  at Western New England University.

Helping Others 

In 2023, Fernando from Mexico and Nui from Laos volunteered at Northampton Survival Center. Fernando also volunteered at the Lathrop Center, a Northampton retirement/assisted living facility. Just a few examples of how English learners at ILI give back to enrich our local communities! 

A man and a woman smiling with thumbs up.


By the end of 2023, 

  • 70 international students from 35 countries speaking 21 languages enrolled in our intensive English program, many staying with local host families, cementing new friendships and contributing to local economies. 
  • 19 immigrants and refugees from our free English classes joined international students in the intensive English program, made possible because of scholarships sponsored by Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee; Curran, Berger & Kludt, an immigration law firm; the Richard Martin Memorial Scholarship; and an anonymous donor. 

Locals learn new languages and cultural traditions!

We call them world language courses and tutorials. Eager participants call them French, German, Italian and Spanish classes that are excellent places to gain new linguistic skills and expand their cultural horizons—and are fun, to boot. From beginning to advanced levels, the classes are a welcoming, friendly environment to engulf learners quickly in new languages. Offerings in 2023 included an advanced Spanish class on Frida Kahlo and an advanced French course on the films of Jean-Paul Belmondo. Language learning and cultural acquisition go hand in hand! 

Language learning at work benefits employees, employers and customers!

With businesses fully open and staffing up, ILI’s workplace language learning courses took off in 2023. On-site classes for businesses and employees looked to improve English skills, or train employees in Spanish, French and Portuguese. Each course incorporated workplace vocabulary and cultural components designed specifically to meet the needs of each individual business. All delivered practical language skills for immediate use. 


By the end of 2023, 

  • 420 local residents and learners from other states joined in-person and online classes and tutorials in German, French, Italian and Spanish. 
  • Dozens of mostly immigrant and refugee employees at regional businesses learned English at their places of work. The companies included Holyoke Medical Center, Baystate Health, Amherst College, Marriott Hotel and Flour Bakery.
  • 16 people gained certification in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) and can use their new skills here at home or in other countries. By the way, 46% of our teachers are ILI TESOL graduates or certified teacher trainers. 

Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL)—a joy as well as a fulfilling career!

Imagine traveling the world, or even just parts of it, with a certificate in your pocket that pretty much guarantees you can work wherever English teachers are needed. That’s part of what motivates people to enroll in ILI’s TESOL Certificate course where they gain skills to become more successful teachers. 

In 2023, these teachers in training included a student in Wuhan, China, who studied online with us five days a week from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am EST for four weeks to earn a TESOL certificate. And ILI offers a built-in advantage. TESOL students practice, both online and in person, with non-native English speakers in our free and intensive English classes, who, in turn, benefit from getting extra hours outside of regular class to enhance their English skills! 

Building the Future: An empowering initiative!

 We’re getting a makeover! 

A group of people holding building plans.

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra (center), ILI landlord/project partner J. Rockwell (Rocky) Allen (second from left) and students, staff and board members celebrate deconstruction and rebuilding at ILI.

During much of 2022 and 2023, ILI staff, board and landlord (Emerald City Partners LLC) participated in negotiations to renovate our space in Northampton. The goal? Ensure a sustainable, viable ILI into the future in compliance with the health and safety guidelines issued for learning and cultural centers during the pandemic. 

That’s how our “Building the Future” project was born. It is underway—since November 2023—and will result in larger classrooms, ADA-  compliant restrooms and improved ADA access throughout. It will also create a new common space for our use and potentially for other nonprofits and community groups to hold meetings and small events. 

All of the project’s infrastructure renovations, upgrades and ADA-compliant additions are essential to provide a more welcoming, accessible and safer learning center. Its benefits will accrue widely to language learners, ILI’s dedicated teachers and staff, visitors and local communities. 

“Building the Future” is truly an ambitious undertaking! We’ll keep you updated on progress in our monthly email newsletters. If you want to stay in the loop of what’s happening at ILI, sign up for our monthly newsletter.


Deconstruction work, now almost completed, is under the supervision of Dan Shamir, an immigrant from Estonia who speaks four languages and runs his own company, 1 Call Clean Out. His entire workforce is made up of immigrants, several of whom are joining our free English classes in 2024.