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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How immigrants learn English in Canada

In Canadian schools, immigrants catch up to native English speakers within three years, reports Education Week correspondent Kavitha Cardoza in a video that aired on PBS NewsHour.

Thirty percent of Canadian students are immigrants or the children of immigrants, compared to 23 percent of U.S. schoolchildren, writes Cardoza.

Yet Canada has one of the highest performing education systems in the world as ranked by the Program for International Assessment, or PISA, test that 15-year-olds from more than 70 countries take. The United States’ rankings, by contrast, are mediocre. Part of Canada’s success is connected to its strong track record on educating immigrants. Within three years of arriving in Canada’s public schools, PISA tests show that children of new migrants do as well as native-born children.

U.S. educators believe it takes four to seven years — some say up to 10 years — for an English Learner to do as well as native speakers.

Canada admits more immigrants based on education, English fluency and job skills rather than focusing on family reunification, notes Cardoza. In addition, schools receive more funding to educate English learners.

Similar to what happens in American schools, English-learners in Canada are assessed when they enter school. Most can read and write in their home language but have limited English skills. They might be placed in regular classes with additional one-on-one language instruction. But a growing number of children arriving in Canada have had interrupted schooling and are not at grade level in their home language either. Since 2014, the province of Ontario has accepted more than 10,000 refugees from Syria, half of them children. . . . In Toronto, they are in a special program called the Literacy Enrichment Academic Program, or LEAP. Students are expected to make two academic years of progress each year so they can catch up with their English-speaking peers quickly and be in mainstream classes full time within three years.

LEAP students are taught in English, with vocabulary help and visual explanations, in the morning. In the afternoon, they join mainstream classes with native English speakers.

Santa Clara County (California) schools should emulate Canada, which teaches grade-level academic content while immigrants “intensively learn their new language,” writes Bill Conrad in San Jose Inside. Here, schools prolong “language learning from six to eight years using the soft rationale of preserving native language and culture.”

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