Supporting English Language Acquisition: Opportunities for Foundations to Strengthen Immigrant Families

by Ted Wang; Tia Elena Martinez

Aug 15, 2005
By investing strategically in English acquisition programs, foundations can make an important contribution to improve social and economic outcomes for working-poor immigrant families. To help funders gain a better understanding of the issues, this briefing paper provides an overview of characteristics of the LEP immigrant population in the United States and discusses the impact of limited English skills on newcomer families. It highlights proven and promising language acquisition programs and strategies that help improve immigrant families' social, educational, and economic well-being. Finally, the paper offers a set of recommendations for investing in effective language acquisition programs that can help immigrants maintain strong family relationships, improve their long-term economic security, and become full, participating members of our community.
  • To help immigrants who have more than 12 years of education, foundations can consider investing in the expansion of existing ESL classes to meet demand.
  • To help immigrants who have more than 12 years of education, foundations can consider funding vocational ESL programs that also work toward improving workplace English and other job-related skills.
  • Successful programs generally share the following qualities: teach workplace or occupation-specific English; teach basic computer and workplace skills; offer job counseling and placement services; and if applicable, provide basic training to help participants pass entrance test or obtain credentials.
  • To help immigrants with less than 12 years of education -- particularly those with nine or less years -- funders can consider supporting enriched language acquisition programs that include job training components.
  • Funders wishing to assist immigrants who have nine or fewer years of education and who have children up to the age of five should strongly consider supporting family literacy programs.
  • Effective programs for immigrants who have nine or fewer years of education and who have children up to the age of five should include adult basic education emphasizing literacy in the participants' first language and ESL classes for parents. The materials used to teach these classes should draw on parents' experiences raising young children.
  • Effective programs for immigrants who have nine or fewer years of education and who have children up to the age of five should include parenting education programs designed to introduce the main precepts of early childhood development and the importance of shared language activities. These programs should incorporate materials designed to introduce immigrant parents to the U.S. school system.
  • Effective programs for immigrants who have nine or fewer years of education and who have children up to the age of five should include early childhood education programs designed to bolster the skills children will need to succeed in school. The focus should be on pre-literacy skills, such as vocabulary building and verbal expression.
  • Effective programs for immigrants who have nine or fewer years of education and who have children up to the age of five should include time for the adults and children to participate together in literacy activities that they can also do at home.
  • To help immigrants with children between the ages of 12 and 18, foundations should consider supporting multigenerational language acquisition programs designed to bridge the communication gap between the first and second generations.
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