I’ve written earlier about our unpublished research that shows that English-language mastery is key to helping immigrants get more socially and civicly engaged in America. And of course, the job market heavily rewards immigrants who speak English.
The WSJ had a story (“Huddled Classes Yearning to Learn Free“, 6/12/07, p. B1) today about just how hard we make it for immigrant adults to learn English. The U.S. offers very few free classes for adults and demand for such classes well exceeds available spots; moreover demand for such classes likely to skyrocket if, as was the case in the immigration bill that was recently being debated in Congress, they require or heavily reward English language mastery. There are classes for a fee but many immigrants don’t have the resources to be able to afford them.
We as a country should put our money where our mouth is — many in the U.S. criticize immigrants that don’t speak English, but we do little to make it easy for them to learn English.
Senator Lamar Alexander is one of the Senators most interested in trying to reward immigrant language proficiency and make it easier for them to learn and has introduced legislation to do so. Our own belief is that we should experiment with how best to teach immigrants English and prioritize classes that help overcome immigrant isolation by having immigrants learn in groups where they at the same time form bridging social capital with immigrants from other backgrounds.