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13 May 2013

Language Distance and Immigrants' Trouble Assimilating from The Atlantic

Did you guys see the post from The Atlantic, "Language Distance: The Reason Immigrants Have Trouble Assimilating"

Image via The Atlantic
It talks about the difficulty immigrants have assimilating and learning the target language when their native language is very far away from the language they're trying to learn. Think English and Vietnamese. On the other hand, immigrants tend to have an easier time when the languages are more similar. Think Spanish and Italian. Here is a chart showing close and far languages are:
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Image via The Atlantic

And it is not only native language that affects ability to assimilate. The author, Olga Khazan, wrote, "How quickly immigrants learn to navigate their host countries plays a big role in how likely they are to thrive in their new homelands." This is pretty intuitive, right? If immigrants immerse themselves in the target language and culture, they will be more likely to thrive. She also wrote that age, literacy, and employment status must also be taken into consideration with ability to assimilate. 

While I don't teach English to community members, I believe it's important for all language teachers to have sensitivity to language learning and assimilation difficulties. Do you have experience with helping students assimilate? What difficulties have you come across?

Secrets for Adults ELLs, Part 2

I recently posted about secrets for adult ELLs, and the difficulty some students can have with immersing themselves in English when they have young families or spouses who don't speak English. I won't go into detail in this post; you can read the original post here. My original post was a reaction post to Alexandra Lowe's TESOL blog post, which discussed "secrets" adult language learners provided for other language learners. 

tesol international association
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Alexandra recently posted a follow-up which provided some clarification about her original post about how students can increase their English exposure and use, even if they can't "run away" from their native languages. She wrote, "the advice was certainly not intended to discourage students from  speaking their L1 at home with their family. Rather, it is designed to encourage adult ESL students in the United States to resolve to speak English whenever they have an opportunity to interact with the English-speaking world around them." Because this is really what we ask our students to do, isn't it? We encourage them to speak English whenever they can because they already have enough exposure to their L1 (native language). They speak it with their spouse, parents, children and/or friends. Teachers should be encouraging them to use English in every other situation when they aren't communicating with loved ones. 

Alexandra elaborated on different ways adult learners can improve their language skills. These include: speaking to English customer-service representatives (rather than those who are Spanish-speaking); declining translators at their children's school meetings; inviting English speaking children (and their parents) over for play dates, which result in English practice for both children and parents; establishing ESL meet-ups for informal conversation practice with people who speak languages other than their L1. You can see her whole post and read all of the suggestions here. 

Let's Talk Conversation Group
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The last suggestion (group conversation meet-ups) reminds me of CMU's Conversation Partner Program. We set up students with native English speakers, but I like the idea of groups of students getting together to chat. I think it would be even more effective if the students set up the groups so that learners who have children can discuss with other parents. They could even bring their children if they cannot find babysitters. This option may be more effective and practical for students with families and spouses, especially if their spouses also want to practice speaking English. 

There are, of course, other ways for students to increase their exposure to English. They can join student clubs and volunteerI think the lesson to take away is that it's essential for students to try to use the target language as much as possible, and it is essential for teachers to help students figure out ways to increase their English language use. Other suggestions for how students can increase their exposure to the target language?