When people move to foreign countries, they inevitably start facing difficulties with almost everything. Even going to the grocery store may become a problem because everything is new and unfamiliar. The sphere of education is not an exception. Immigrants in the United States have to cope with countless challenges, the biggest of which is language. Based on my personal experience in the USA, I am going to argue about the difficulties that foreign-born students face in this country, the consequences of those and ways to overcome the obstacles.
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Back in Nigeria
I was born and grown up in Nigeria. Both of my parents were educators: my mother worked as a teacher, and my father held the position of a professor. In Nigeria, I went to school and got my primary education. The language of teaching used in the schools of Nigeria is English, and it is also the official language of the country. Still, many people use their native languages in addition to it in their everyday lives. For my family and me, the second language was Yoruba.
My Experience in the United States
Currently, I am studying in the United States, and, to tell the truth, that is a very challenging experience at least for three reasons.
The way things are done
Firstly, I basically have to learn everything from scratch. There are many things that are done differently in the United States and back in my home country, which is quite understandable. When people migrate, they soon find out that everything is built in a different way: people have an unfamiliar culture, customs and traditions, greet each other differently, have another healthcare system, etc. It turns out that you have problems even with simple day-to-day tasks, like buying groceries or answering the phone. Education is not an exception to the rule. Students in the US use different terms, definitions, problem-solving approaches, and so on and so forth. And I have to adjust to it. I have to put a lot of efforts into what other students do mechanically.
Difficulties with reading and writing
Secondly, even though English is the first language in Nigeria, in the United States, it is much more difficult for me. I wish my parents or my teachers had made it compulsory for me to read novels because that would probably have helped me to improve my English a lot. I do not easily understand the questions on my assignments or tests, and I usually have to read those several times. When writing, I also use a dictionary sometimes.
Confusion because of my accent
Finally, another thing that makes my studying here harder is my accent. I often feel intimidated and scared of speaking in the class because of it. Some people understand me easily. Others are willing to understand. However, I still regularly see this what-is-she-saying look that makes me feel ill at ease. Because of my accent and the way I feel about it, I often make some mistakes in the face-to-face communication. Those can be both grammatical mistakes, which are more or less normal in personal communication, and confused words. As an example, I once said ‘vacation’ instead of ‘vacancy’, and even though my instinct told me that something was wrong with the word I used, I could not remember the right one. I also notice that when I feel more confident, I make fewer mistakes, and people understand me better.
All of this has inspired me to choose the topic of challenges in multicultural US education and research on it. I have found a lot of articles, both scholarly and popular ones, which shed light on the same difficulties I am experiencing. Even though every author explores his or her own aspect of the problem and focuses on immigrants from other countries than my country of origin, all of them agree how hard it is for foreigners to get the American education and cope with a language barrier.
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The Results of My Research
What can Numbers Reveal?
Let us start with statistics. How many immigrants are studying on the territory of the United States, and how academically successful are they if compared with native-born Americans? What language skills do foreign-born American residents possess? According to Gretchen Krebs’s article published in The Deseret News National, in 2010, the number of immigrants living in the USA amounted to 40 million, which was twice as much as the immigrant population at the end of the last century (par. 8). In view of this rising tendency, it is logical to assume that presently this value is even bigger. At the same time, a lot of people arrive in the United States with “little formal schooling” and literacy levels that “even in their native languages are below their grade level” (Erisman and Looney 6).
The population of people who speak English “less than very well” rose by almost 4 million during the previous decade (Holeywell par. 2). In 21 states of the USA, the number of people with limited English skills increased by more than 25% over the same period of time (Holeywell par. 3). As for the academic success of immigrants, the dropout rate from universities for them is more that 30 percent while the same value for native-born white Americans is nearly three times lower (par. 9). Because of the low level of knowledge, poor English skills or the lack of confidence in themselves, a lot of immigrants eventually decide that the educational establishment is not the right place for them, and they drop out of schools, believing that it would be better for them to help their parents by working.
English is Essential
The biggest challenge for immigrants who want to get the American education is language. As Erisman and Looney state, that is a primary barrier that prevents foreign students from successful graduation (7). To tell the truth, the USA can hardly be called a multilingual country. English here is a communication tool, an ethical obligation, and a compulsory condition for employment and education. Courses in educational establishments are taught in English, and not so many people believe that children of immigrants should have an opportunity to take some of them in their native languages. All of this eventually makes non-English speakers in the US isolated in every community they belong to, and school is one of those.
Language is not Enough
As Gretchen Krebs writes, “For students who come to the United States with some education, some English or a little more time to catch up before they age out of public education, graduation is possible” (par. 14). However, it does not mean that they do not academically struggle in their efforts to adjust to the US educational system and the way things work here. As Kim and Dattilo claim, immigration is connected with a lot of stresses caused by school environment and the need to speak a new language, which in its turn affects students’ attitude to life and the quality of it (337). Consequently, even those who come to America with some English skills and education level, nine times out of ten are insecure with it. My case is the prime example. Sometimes I am just scared to speak English because of my accent and the fear that people would not understand a word.
Recommendations on How to Deal with the Problem
How did Richard Rodriguez Cope?
In one of the required readings of this course, I have noticed a situation that is very similar to mine. In his autobiographical book called Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez describes his own long way to higher education. As a son of Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants, he “first entered a classroom barely able to speak English” (43). Because of this, Richard was isolated and could not even make friends with children of his age. Nevertheless, when he started putting all his efforts into studying, he succeeded in it.
Do Your Best
Actually, trying harder is the only possible way to overcome those obstacles that immigrants face in the US while studying. Evidently, foreign-born students, especially those who have spoken languages different from English in their home countries, have to put more efforts into their education. As in any other sphere of life, immigrants learn how to do things that natives are used to and just do mechanically. People, who feel that their language skills are not enough to study, should admit this fact and start attending language courses since otherwise they will not be able to keep up with the class. Evidently, it works like a snowball effect: the longer you ignore the need to learn English, the more information you miss, and the harder it becomes to study.
Go Beyond the Comfort Zone
In addition to trying harder, we have to be open-minded and brave. We have to expand the boundaries of our comfort zone since that will help us to feel more confident. All we need to do is to admit that it is impossible to avoid all the challenges that a new country gives, so we should stop being afraid and start being prepared. For example, I am aware of my fear to speak English in the class. To train myself, I read aloud at home. Besides, I try to speak to people outside the class more. Even when I am afraid to do this, I push myself into it because I understand that the only way to speak better is to speak (pardon the tautology).
In conclusion, nobody would argue that immigration to another country brings a lot of problems and difficulties, including those associated with education. For a foreign-born student, studying in the USA is complicated, and the high dropout rate is the primary proof of that. However, it does not mean that immigrants should give up on trying – just the opposite, they should put more efforts into it, and force themselves to go beyond their comfort zone in order to be more confident. Since it is impossible to avoid the challenges the US educational system brings, it is better to be prepared for them.
Erisman, Wendy and Shannon Looney. Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants 2007. Web.
Holeywell, Ryan. How Language Fits Into the Immigration Issue 2012. Web.
Kim, Junhyoung and John Dattilo. “Education and Recreation Activities of Older Asian Immigrants.” Educational Gerontology 37 (2011): 336-350. Print.
Krebs, Gretchen. An American education: refugees and new immigrants face challenges to graduation 2013. Web.
Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, New York, New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2004. Print.