|¿Habla Español? English Only Not as Easy or Effective as it Sounds|
|Subject||Older immigrants have more difficulty learning English.|
|Key Words||education, age, immigration, wages|
|News Story||Imagine how difficult it would be to be forced to learn and use exclusively Spanish overnight. New studies suggest that political proposals requiring immigrants to learn English may not be as easy as to enforce as they sound-for immigrants or for their children. Nor are the policies effective as tools to integrate non-English-speaking immigrants into U.S. society. New articles distinguish between immigrants from English-speaking and non-English-speaking home countries to help determine why wage differentials exist. Turning to educational theories of second language acquisition and adding a bit of economic analysis, researchers discover some interesting results. First, poor English skills lead to less education and lower wages, even for children of immigrants. This seems intuitive.
But it goes further than this. The studies indicate that even if an immigrant came from a non-English-speaking country, as long as that individual came during the period of easy second language acquisition (generally accepted to be before about age 12), they suffered no discernable difference between their wages and those immigrants from English-speaking countries. Apparently those individuals who come to the U.S. later in life find learning and using English to be much more difficult--and therefore many choose not to put forth the effort. That also makes intuitive sense, especially for those of us who now remember high school language classes that gave us nightmares.
The studies go even further. Those individuals who don't improve their English skills upon entry into the United States tend to pass their poor language skills along to their children, extending the cycle of economic disadvantage. The studies show a large wage distinction between workers from non-English-speaking countries with poor language skills, and those from non-English-speaking countries whose English has improved over time. Many economists insist that language instruction for immigrant children is vitally important for this very reason. It may be the only English instruction they will receive.
|Source||Goolsbee, Austan. "Legislate Learning English? If Only it Were So Easy." The New York Times. June 22, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com.|
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