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basketman / FreeDigitalPhotos.netWritten by englishgateway.com Founder, Olga Galperin

Olga Galperin, M.A., B.Ed., is currently teaching adult ESL classes with the York Catholic District School Board in the Greater Toronto Area. Previous teaching experiences include ESL, academic upgrading and vocational classes in Israel and Canada. Olga is the founder of www.englishgateway.com, a website dedicated to developing ESL worksheets and vocabulary lessons for intermediate and advanced levels.

For many immigrants insufficient proficiency in English is the main barrier to both economic and social integration to their new home. English language skills correlate with many variables that affect income, education, cultural attitudes, family relationships and permeate throughout all issues related to their settlement.

Although every effort has been made to provide free English language learning classes for adult immigrants in most host countries, many newcomers continue to live without being able to communicate in English well enough to achieve their professional and personal goals and fully participate in the mainstream society.

While some learners might have dismissive attitudes towards learning English (why bother at all when multilingual services are made available and jobs within an ethnic enclave can be found without ever having to learn English?), some plateau at an intermediate level of learning English. As difficult as it can be to find the time and conditions to learn English, those who find a way and continue to push beyond their comfort zone, have a much better chance to make it in a new country.

Despite their hard work, dedication and sacrifices, immigrants often face financial hardships and insecurities, as well as challenges to their economic advancement. English proficiency is what makes an immigrant employable rather than just employed. The latter means sticking with any type of job to have an income, not matter how physically arduous it might be. The former means that in addition to having necessary credentials and qualifications, immigrants must have strong language skills to be competitive in today’s job market. Accessing education and training opportunities, advancing from entry-level to mid-level positions, gaining more responsibilities and ability to get promoted - all depend on how effective one can use English.

Advanced level of English is necessary to be successful in professional fields such as engineering, accounting, teaching and medicine-related occupations. Even workplaces that historically required little English (i.e., packing jobs, building trades), are now demanding sufficient English skills such as, following instructions and ability to read and write. Employability also depends on soft skills that are often (though maybe inexplicitly) taught during English classes: time management, teamwork, adaptability - as these tend to vary from culture to culture. The combination of professionalism and well-developed language skills can bring improved employment opportunities and mobility when looking for a job.

Lack of English proficiency also inhibits parental involvement. Although immigrant parents care about children’s education, limited language ability prevents them from understanding how schools operate and what is expected from their children. They find it hard to engage with school personnel, understand school correspondence, advocate for the rights of their children and feel helpless to assist with homework. Limited language skills can drive a wedge between parents and children, reversing roles within a family. As children, and especially teens, are asked to translate for their parents during doctor visits, parent-teacher meetings and navigate documents in English, parental authority is easily undermined and children start resisting parent’s attempts to provide guidance.

Poor English proficiency impedes the social aspect of assimilation. Due to limited language skills, immigrants might experience biases and stereotyping by the locals and feel marginalized and segregated as a result. When a person speaks little English, it’s easy to get intimidated and frustrated, especially when trying to communicate with English-speaking service providers, supervisors and community members. Exercising civil rights and voting responsibilities can be done more intelligently through listening to political views and debates in the original language.

As ESL instructors, we can continue to be kind, patient and sympathetic professionals. Our classes give learners a new angle on local norms and really help them open doors to places they may not have been able to get otherwise. As highly trusted individuals, we can encourage, motivate and give a gentle push forward to help our learners realize the immense personal and professional value of being proficient in English.

This article was provided by englishgateway.com. For more information, or for further ESL resources, please contact Olga Galperin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or visit englishgateway.com.

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