Migration and linguistic integration

Global cross-border and internal migration has fostered the need for migrants to learn and speak additional languages in the societies they move to.

The knowledge of the host country’s language is seen as a barometer of the integration of migrants in a host society. Basic knowledge of the host society’s language, history, culture, and institutions is necessary for integration. And enabling immigrants to acquire this basic knowledge is a prerequisite for successful integration. Language programs for young and adult refugees and migrants are often linked to or part of broader integration objectives. Cultural orientation, host country knowledge, and social participation are part of such government-funded language and integration programs.

Each migrant brings with them their own history and experience. However, once in a foreign country, they will constantly be confronted with the differences of that country: economic, cultural, political, etc. It is much easier to adapt to another country and comply with its mandatory requirements when you can understand both verbal and written information in the host country’s language. Successful integration of migrants is also determined by the ability to establish an emotional bond with the local community. Adult migrants learn the language directly through informal participation in various areas of social life.

Learning a new language while getting to know and adapting to a new culture is challenging. To help overcome the obstacles, learners need the support, encouragement and interaction of others. The various language learning courses available can only help meet part of these needs. However, language learning does not end with these formal learning activities but inevitably continues in informal settings.

Although the integration of migrants is discussed in most countries, the issue of language teaching tends to dominate such discussions, and migrants’ views on what is relevant for them in learning a second language are rarely heard. Teachers of language classes for migrants are aware of the importance of listening carefully to their learners to understand their needs and motivations, and plan with them how to meet those needs.

Often, participatory teaching methodologies are used in second language teaching in various community initiatives. The main driving force behind the content is the subjects and issues that migrant learners face in their changed daily lives. This active participatory teaching methodology is based on the learners’ experiences and encourages the development of a critical worldview.

Often, students themselves have significant responsibility for the learning process: they can identify essential learning issues and topics and thus develop their learning materials. Experienced teachers in this field can often anticipate the needs of migrant pupils, but regular, face-to-face collaboration in the classroom helps make teaching more effective. Participatory activities use problem-solving, drama and visual stimulus. Themes in language learning are developed through discussion on various aspects: racism, money, social class, culture, values, religious and cultural boundaries, fear of change, double standards. The teacher has a vital role in such a linguistic, educational discussion, emphasizing the significant, important aspects of language. We come back again to the importance of communication: the teacher must encourage people to speak directly, not be afraid of making mistakes, and communicate with others. When learners are not afraid to make mistakes and are proud of their own and others’ achievements in language use, it will be easier to try new things, take risks, and enjoy the confidence of their abilities and challenges in a new and changing environment.

Based on:

Problems of linguistic migration and integration: attitudes of teachers and students. Editor:David Mallows https://epale.ec.europa.eu/sites/default/files/00019.pdf

Paper commissioned for the 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report, Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls  https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000266077