On any given day a plethora of languages are spoken in the Columbus school district, a fact that can be daunting for school officials.

On any given day a plethora of languages are spoken in the Columbus school district, a fact that can be daunting for school officials.

"We have probably 85 to 90 (languages), and I say between that because we get in new families almost every day," said Ken Woodard, supervisor of the English as a second language program for the district. "No one has the diverse number of languages that we have here."

As a district, Columbus has the most ESL students in the state as well as the most languages spoken in any program, Woodard said. Currently, the district serves 3,500 ESL students, who are located in 46 ESL programs throughout the city.

In comparison, Cincinnati schools have about 1,000 ESL students and Cleveland schools have 2,600.

Woodard said the most common non-English languages in Columbus schools are Spanish and Somali. The next three, in order, are Maimai, a dialect of Somali, Twi, a language from Ghana, and Arabic.

The most common non-English language spoken in the Cincinnati and Cleveland schools is Spanish.

Woodard said in recent years there have been more Spanish speakers coming to Columbus schools. This increase caused Somali, once the most widely spoken non-English language in the district, to be supplanted.

"Over the last two, three, four years we've had a very large influx of Spanish (students), not just from Mexico but from all over Central America," Woodard said.

Woodard pointed to a number of different reasons for this but said part of this trend can be traced to more stringent rules for allowing Somalis to immigrate to the United States.

Woodard said there were a number of explanations for why the district has such a diverse number of languages. Among these reasons was the district's place as the largest in the state as well as its location to such high profile places as Ohio State University and Battelle.

"We've had a lot of secondary migration where families might come into another city or state and realize they have a growing community and realize they should come here," Woodard said, noting there is a also a growing Asian population in Columbus.

When students who speak limited English come to the district they are first tested in one of Columbus schools' year-round proficiency centers and then either placed in the ESL program or, if proficient enough, directly into normal classrooms.

More than 500 ESL students are expected to attend the new Columbus Global Academy, 2001 Hamilton Ave., which will open this school year. The academy serves students from sixth grade through 12th grade; however, students cannot graduate from the school.

At the school, as with the other ESL programs, a teacher is accompanied by a multilingual assistant to help with communication. Instruction is given in English.

"We take those youngsters and work with them so they are either prepared to move on to another grade school or high school," Woodard said.

Alisa Jones, a teacher in Columbus' ESL program, just finished her eighth year with the district. She currently teaches 10th-grade English.

Jones said most of her students speak English well, though reading can be a challenge.

"It's the written language that they are going to have a much more difficult time with and in general the higher level academic language," Jones said. "Many of our students are excited to be here and are excited about learning, but English is a big task to tackle."

She said there has been only the slightest of culture clash.

"I think that I've learned, funny enough, just how American I am," Jones said. I am very time oriented. Most of the students are coming from cultures that are more people oriented rather than time or task oriented. Sometimes, I forget to be understanding of that because they really want to know who I am."

dcross@thisweeknews.com