New Americans want to learn English, evidenced by wait lists for English as Second Language (ESL) programs around the country. Yet half of immigrants over five years old in the U.S. have limited English proficiency, speaking English less than well. English is a prerequisite for full social and economic participation in U.S. society. English is also critical for immigrants to become citizens or pursue pathways to legal status under current reform proposals. English is a gateway for immigrants to be a part of our society and for our society to benefit fully from immigrant contributions.
Any immigrant integration policy must include a significant expansion of public investment in English language instruction. We should support New Americans in pursuit of English language proficiency by:
Learning English is a prerequisite for immigrants’ success integrating into the United States. Anti-immigrant public opinion often asserts that immigrants and refugees don’t want to learn English. This sentiment is wrong.
New Americans want to learn English. Foreign born individuals who have limited English language abilities should not be punished but rather provided the opportunity to improve their English language skills, aiding their integration into American society. English can increase productivity, boost wages, and improve access to higher quality jobs and continued education.
Many New Americans are parents to American-born children who are fluent English language speakers. Learning English is in their interest, in the interest of their children, and in the interest of our society and can ultimately lead to the success of all New Americans. NPNA is a key partner in a national project, in collaboration with OneAmerica and the Learning Games Network, called English Innovations which is sparking creative new approaches to language learning using new curricular models integrated with digital literacy and self-paced learning, that promise the potential to reach significant scale. English Innovations and similar programs that are grounded in community-engagement, adaptable to the experiences of immigrants and that can be contextualized (workplace, schools, community, etc.) can lead the way toward a more robust and effective national ESOL strategy.
Many state and local governments have already invested resources to serve people with limited English language abilities. They have made efforts to comply to with both the letter and spirit of the law. Even so, the diversity of languages spoken by immigrant and refugee communities continues to grow. The complexity and expense of providing language access services, especially for languages that are not the most common, is a major challenge.
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