Ask the Chief: bilingual comprehension

My late mother, an Naturalized (immigrant) citizen of the United States, graduated from the Mount Sinai Nursing School and was an RN most of her adult life. Pursuing a lifelong interest in literature, she earned a Masters degree and in her second career, was a junior college English teacher. Her most cherished students were often not the native-born, but the ones who had emigrated to the United States from places English was not the native tongue. These immigrants were “all-in”, that is totally committed to not just speak the language but have comprehension, which would enable them to be successful at work and fully-appreciated citizens in the community.

That was forty years ago and while the same issues over immigration, national identity, and common language existed then as today, there was far less accommodation then for non-English speakers in the community. Today, there are many government services from schools, courts, county and state offices that serve communities where residents primary language may be Spanish, Tagalog, or Arabic. The United States remains a melting pot of cultures and immigrants from all over the world, though in some states Spanish is the largest language group next to English. Yet employment in professions that require Federal and State certification, licensing, or as college graduates, often require a competence in English first and bilingual as a supporting skill. This has been a continuing issue with secondary (high school) education nationally for decades. People are looking to enter the workforce with poor grammar, and poor reading comprehension. Business writing, reading standard government forms and test instructions are often poorly understood and done incorrectly.

College placement tests bear this out, and offerings of remedial writing classes in community colleges, universities and private for-profit institutions testify to substandard high school standards. For both immigrants from non-English speaking places and native-born, the aspiration to be successful in a profession drives performance. However, some for-profit schools do not assess competence in speaking, writing or reading at a level that will enable a non-native speaker of English to be successful. An unfortunate consequence for many candidates for state licensing, governed by both Federal and State statutes, failure of the written exam or other assessment (conducted in English) is a costly lesson.

Yet there have been private as well as government-programs, online and various means to gain competence through ESL – English as a Second Language -adapted for various professions. While many businesses do cater to specific communities, staff who communicate primarily in a language other than English may have issues meeting Federal requirements for that institution. Meeting Federal guidelines at the workplace and successfully gaining employment requires comprehension at a fairly basic level. However, many private post-secondary education businesses attract students with lower fees and quick preparation for licensing exams. It may be outside their scope to add rigorous language preparation in their curriculum.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s