Low-educated immigrants and the social relevance of second language

Acquisition research
Low-educated immigrants and the social relevance of second language

From Second Language Research

Low educated adults are the least equipped of all immigrants to be able to communicate with members of their adopted communities. When it comes to social relevance, the situation is dire and likely to get worse as climate change produces more refugees from poor low-lying countries with inadequate education. This article highlights how those who teach such adults have very little second language acquisition (SLA) research to refer to in dealing with increasingly politicized policies and worsening provision for low educated immigrant adults in their quest to develop the skills that will allow them to participate fully in the economic and social life of their adopted communities.

Abstract

Since the 1980s’ decoupling of the formal study of second language acquisition from pedagogical concerns, the social relevance of such research has been of little concern. Early studies, in the 1970s, of uninstructed adult learners’ acquisition of morphosyntax pointed to social implications: these working class immigrants had varying levels of schooling, and it turned out that those with the least education made the slowest progress. With a shift in interest to consideration of poverty of the stimulus effects, researchers no longer needed to rely  adults who were uninstructed in the second language (L2) while immersed in the target language. Reliance on easyto-recruit middle-class secondary school and university participants has had the – unintended – consequence of diminishing the attention paid to socially excluded adult L2 learners. This has left a range of language-external factors unaddressed in second language acquisition (SLA) at the international level; however, at the local level, interest in the language acquisition and literacy development of adult immigrants has risen along with increased immigration by adults with little or no native language schooling. These adults face considerable challenges in acquiring the linguistic competence and literacy skills that support participation in the economic and social life of their new communities. Those who teach such adults have very little SLA research to refer to in dealing with increasingly politicized policies and worsening provision. A return to the type of studies conducted in West Germany and the rest of Europe in the 1970s and 1980s would serve this population of learners well. 

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Article details
Martha Young-Scholten
Low-educated immigrants and the social relevance of second language acquisition research
Second Language Research October 2013 29: 441-454, doi:10.1177/0267658313491266

 

     
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