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How Do Other Countries Teach a Second Language?

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Over at the Migration Policy Institute, some researchers have been examining how other countries are educating children from immigrant families. I'm not familiar with the work of the researchers who produced these studies, and I learned about the studies a couple of months after they were released. (Find the press release here.) But I didn't want to miss the chance to report a bit on what's happening with second-language learners outside of the United States.

The findings of a survey of school language policies and practices in 14 immigrant-receiving countries, not including the United States, are particularly interesting. Gayle Christensen, a research associate at the Urban Institute's Education Policy Center, and Petra Stanat, a professor for educational research at the Free University of Berlin, the researchers who conducted the survey, conclude that regions or countries that have the most success in teaching students who are 1st- or 2nd-generation immigrants have several factors in common.

They have systematic programs with explicit standards and requirements. They have curricula that may be created at the local level but adhere to language development frameworks and progress benchmarks determined by a central office. The programs are time-intensive, and offer support at both the primary and lower secondary levels. Teachers who instruct second-language learners have received specialized training. Second-language teachers tend to work closely with mainstream teachers.

The researchers found that bilingual programs played a very minor role in most country's school systems. In almost all the countries studied, more than half of children in primary schools who weren't fluent in the host country's language attended regular classes and received supplemental support either within regular classes or through additional periods of instruction focused on second-language learning.

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Most Western European countries are not doing as well as the US in responding to the needs of immigrant children. In too many European countries, these children are put into a sink or swim situation in state run schools.

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