Understanding Language and Literacy
English is difficult to learn (more difficult than many languages) and will take most people(including youngsters) many years of instruction and practice to become fully proficient.
Refugees and immigrants may have difficulty with written English for many reasons:
1) They use a different alphabet (e.g., Arabic, Hebrew, Russian, etc.).
Their native language may be written with characters or small pictures (e.g., Mandarin, Cantonese).
2) Their language may be read from right to left (e.g., Arabic, Farsi) or vertically (e.g., Chinese, Japanese) instead of left to right and horizontally.
3) Their language has no written form (e.g., Dinka) or a writing system is just now being developed (e.g., Somali Bantu).
4) While many immigrant seniors have high levels of literacy in their native language, many have not had the opportunity to complete formal schooling in their native language, which makes learning to read and write in English more difficult.
Hands-on approaches to learning are most helpful because they allow a teacher to assess how well the student has understood instructions.
It is important to understand that many immigrants and refugees may be experiencing a sense of loss. They may need help adjusting to their new circumstances.
Teachers can help them become familiar with the culture of America.
Be sensitive to age and gender related roles with those from different cultural backgrounds.
Promoting Effective Communication
One important lesson is to teach students how to indicate a lack of comprehension and how to ask for help. This will go a long way toward bridging the communication gap.
Don’t assume that once something is explained, it is understood. Many students may be afraid or ashamed to admit their lack of understanding.
Use plain language when speaking and writing. Lots of white space and a legible typeface make reading easier.
Promoting Cultural Understanding
Many immigrants and refugees need help understanding the concept of time in America because it is different from their cultural sense of time.
Many foreign-born individuals need help understanding the informal ways that people in the U.S. speak to one another.
Gender and age-related roles in some cultures are more formal and may have an impact on how men and women speak to each other. Some difficulties may be women in a position of leadership (teacher) or younger people addressing older ones directly.
Be open yourself to looking at situations through the eyes of another culture.
Want to know how it feels? Take a trip to the Asian market on Superior and E38th St. Very little is in English. Look at the rows of items in the grocery store and feel what a refugee feels looking in one of our grocery stores.