Used to be that you could get through half a lifetime in parts of Minnesota without speaking a word of English. Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, and Czechs shopped, banked, and worshiped in their native languages a century ago; even government agencies did business in the Old Country's tongue. Recent immigrants don't have that luxury: If you speak only Hmong, Russian, or Somali, you pretty much depend on the kindness of strangers for everything beyond a trip to the corner superette. Enter the Minneapolis and St. Paul schools with an array of courses that teach everything from basic grocery-store communication to college-level reading and writing. Lessons are offered at dozens of locations, both during the day and in the evening. Most classes run three hours a day, three days a week. All are free.


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