A project of the Center for Community Change


Finding their way with English

I’ve been meaning to post this second installment of Adult English Education videos for a few weeks – my apologies to Will Coley who did a great job pulling these together.

Earlier in August, I posted the video “Classroom 206: Making Time for English” – you can check it out here.

This week’s post is “Finding their Way With English”:

The video is pretty simple, but it reflects the desire of many adult immigrants to learn English. Language is power and for those new to this country, the ability to communicate is central to success. However, as I was watching this video, I began thinking about a friend of mine who is Mexican-American, but grew up in a strictly English-speaking household.

I fully support adult English education and I think there should be more funding for programs like the one featured in the video, but I have to wonder what is lost when first generation immigrants place so much focus on English that their own native languages aren’t passed down to the next generation. I firmly believe that bilingual people have a strong advantage over those who only speak one language. It has been well-documented that the so-called 1.5 generation of immigrants (those born abroad and brought to the US as children) have been some of the best and brightest world-changers in our country’s history.

They are immersed in their native culture long enough to learn their native language and cultural values, but come to this country early enough to easily learn English and become part of mainstream America. 1.5 immigrants tend to be fluently bilingual and bicultural, communicate easily between two worlds, and can easily connect to different cultures, approaching the ideal global citizen.

I’ve wandered a bit from the topic at hand, but I think that its worth remembering that while English acquisition is an acquisition of power, it shouldn’t come with the cost of sacrificing heritage and native language to “integrate” into American culture.

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Classroom 206: Making time for English

Our friend Will Coley, from Aquifer Media, has collaborated with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center to create a series of videos about immigrants learning English. This first video “Classroom 206: Making time for English”, really drives home the commitment and work ethic of many of the  immigrants who come to the United States in search of a better life.

Check it out:

After watching the video, I began reflecting on my own second-language acquisition. I spent the majority of my years in school studying Spanish and can now claim fluency. However, I was privileged enough to learn this language because I wanted to, not because it was necessary for daily life. I was also privileged enough to study this language while in high school, college and even graduate school, without having to work 12 hours days in order to support myself. I am in awe of the dedication of these students and reminded of the irreplaceable value of immigrants who come to this country both themselves and the United States.

Look out for the next video, “Finding their way with English”, next week.

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New Study Shows Immigrants are Learning English Faster than their Predecessors

english-onlyI have posted before about the rabid English-only campaigns that have become all the rage in certain parts of the country. From attempts to abolish bilingual  or ethnic education, to attempts to try to make english the official language of the United States (which has no official language), it seems like nativists and the anti-immigrant extremists are convinced that today’s immigrants refuse to learn English, or are learning it more slowly than the immigrants who came through Ellis Island.

Well, Joseph Salmons, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has done a study that turns that idea upside-down.

Salmons says their study suggests that conventional wisdom may actually have it backwards — while early immigrants didn’t necessarily need English to succeed and responded slowly, modern immigrants recognize it as a ticket to success and are learning English in extremely high percentages.

He studied the history of German immigrants and found that today’s immigrants are learning English at a markedly faster rate. Did you hear that, fear-mongerors? Immigrants are learning English, and quickly. There are no hoards of foreigners threatening to abolish the good old English language here in the US of A. So please, calm down.

Continue Reading…

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