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Can`t Learn Or Won`t Learn? Either Way, Aliens Won`t Be Speaking English
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June 22, 2007, 05:00 AM
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Every time I watch President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain or Senator Edward M. Kennedy predict that newly-amnestied aliens will "learn English", such is my frustration that I feel like throwing something at my television.

Bush and his cronies must be fully aware that fluency—or even basic conversational skills—is not in the offing for recently-arrived illegal aliens. In fact, I have witnessed first hand that many aliens who have been in the U.S. for more than two decades cannot even answer simple questions like, for example, "Where do you live?"

As someone who has spent twenty years trying to teach immigrants English—in vain, 99 percent of the time—I promise you that language assimilation is not on the verge of happening no matter what carrot is dangled in front of them. [VDARE.COM NOTE: In officially bilingual Canada, English-speaking civil servants are frequently unable to learn French, even though it costs them promotions, and national Anglo politicians have been unable to learn French even though it has cost them the Prime Ministership.]

I have written earlier about my attempts to teach English during the 1986 amnesty. when a ludicrously low 40 hours of classroom instruction was required. (Read those columns here and here).

My equally unsuccessful colleagues and I have spent considerable time beating ourselves up over what we perceived as our collective failures. After all, if your job is teaching English and no one is learning, what other conclusion can you draw other than you`re lousy at your job?

But—thankfully—recent research uncovered that ESL teachers need not be so hard on themselves. According to two economists at prominent academic institutions, no one can teach non-English speakers for the simplest of reasons. Save for the rare exception, they cannot learn! [Legislate Learning English? If Only It Were So Easy, By Austan Goolsbee, New York Times, June 22, 2006]

In their study, "Language Skills and Earnings: Evidence from Childhood Immigrants"  University of Chicago Business School Professor Hoyt Bleakley and University of Houston professor Aimee Chin found that beyond "the critical learning age of 11 or 12" it is "difficult" to become fluent in a new language.

And even if some level of fluency is reached among the English learners, most will speak with a heavy accent.

Bleakley and Chin point to Henry and Walter Kissinger as examples. Henry, who immigrated when he was 14, speaks English with a thick accent. His younger brother does not.

The study`s significance is obvious to everyone—except Bush and his open borders gang.

Among the 20 million aliens who may qualify for amnesty, the vast majority are adults beyond the "critical learning age."  They are therefore unlikely English learners and hence will most certainly be locked into low-paying jobs and a life of poverty.

Couple their ages with their mostly indifferent attitude toward learning English, and the conclusion is inescapable. No matter what is legislated, amnestied aliens either cannot or will not learn English.

Another societal fall-out that evolves from the huge contingent non-English speakers is the negative impact on their U.S. born children.

In their follow up study published by the University of California, San Diego`s Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, "What Holds Back the Second Generation? The Intergenerational Transmission of Language Human Capital Among Immigrants," [PDF] Bleakley and Chin found that children whose parents were older (than 12) when they arrived in the U.S. do not speak English well and perform much worse in school than English-speaking children. They are more likely to go to preschool and much more likely to drop out of high school.

Not even expensive taxpayer funded after-school intervention programs can alter the future for most children born into non-English speaking households. A former teacher at a highly-diverse primary school in Stockton, California told me that if children do not develop basic reading skills in the first grade, catching up in the second grade or beyond is improbable.

Given that so many non-English speaking children fall behind in school from the first grade on, it is little wonder that they don`t graduate from high school.

Even though academic research vindicates me, the stiff resistance to acquiring language skills remains frustrating.  And the old, "They`re not learning; the fault is yours" is maddening.

Check out Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA.) who, in response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger`s suggestion that Mexicans turn off Spanish television and focus on English, said that "immigrants" would like to enroll in ESL classes but long lines and up to a three year wait prevents them from doing so.["Hispanic Leaders Blast Schwarzenegger`s Advice To Turn Off Spanish T.V.," Fox News, June 15, 2007)

My questions to Sanchez:

  • Where are the long lines and the three-year waits? At the Lodi Adult School, where I teach, and at every other California school that I am aware of there are no lines and no waits.

  • Did you graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, and U.C.L.A. law school without speaking English? Why not promote the values of English language that were so helpful to you?

  • Why didn`t you, as a former ESL teacher, support Schwarzenegger and endorse his obviously sound advice? Aliens are more likely to listen to you than to him.

For anyone who wants to learn English, the opportunities, both in the classroom and outside it, are multiple.

Neither Bush nor Schwarzenegger can force learning upon the unwilling.

The pity is that the eagerness that the aliens famously display to come to the U.S. for a "better life" doesn`t include an equally-urgent desire to take the first step toward becoming Americans by learning English.

Joe Guzzardi [e-mail him] is the Editor of VDARE.COM Letters to the Editor. In addition, he is an English teacher at the Lodi Adult School and has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.