Adult ESL Learners in Northfield:
Marginalization and Success
July 31, 2002
Based on interviews and field observation, this
study examines English as a Second Language (ESL) learners in the city
of Northfield, Minnesota. A wide range of conflicting feelings
and cultural perspectives associated with language acquisition exists
wherever non-native English learners come face to face with a dominant
English culture. The interplay of socioeconomic, cultural, and
ethnic tensions produce positive and negative attitudes toward leaning
English. Students must confront issues that arise because of
their own attitudes towards learning English and the attitudes of
native speakers toward non-native learners. These factors
influence the motivational orientations of second language learners and
by so doing, their subsequent successes or failures in the
There are many different and pressing reasons for
Spanish-speaking immigrants to the United States to speak the "native",
i.e., English, language. The question, then, is why more
immigrants do not speak the language, or at least, do not speak it with
an advanced level of proficiency. The impression of Spanish
speakers towards English and English speakers has been called a
love-hate relationship and is most commonly associated with North
American speakers and the socioeconomic and political relationship
between Mexico and the U.S. (Francis and Ryan, 1998, p. 25). This image
and the imposition of the language on the Spanish speaker as an
international lingua franca that he or she must possess to achieve
professionally, academically, and economically creates a range of
attitudes in Spanish speakers that may have a negative effect on
language acquisition. However, as illustrated by the popular
quote, "North American children must be intelligent; they speak English
from when they are little." indicates a more general attraction toward
U.S. culture as a whole (Francis and Ryan, 1998, p. 26). Language
attitudes are often contradictory, combining in a complex manner
aspects of positive identification and rejection, "nationalistic
consciousness," and self-depreciation.
This article explores the social and attitudinal
factors inherent in the language acquisition of an adult ESL
student. It focuses on the rural town of Northfield, Minnesota,
and the experiences of students in different ESL classes, and is based
on personal interviews with teachers and students alike.
Ambivalent perspectives emerge in relation to integrative versus
instrumental motivation in second language learning; the former is
associated with positive and partially assimilative postures toward the
second language, and the second with more utilitarian purposes and
perspectives. This study examines whether sociocultural settings
and instrumental goals in language affect secondary language
acquisition in Northfield. Some limitations of this study include
the time afforded, in that classes and students were followed for about
The study topic was sparked by the author's personal
interest in ESL programs and methods and two years of previous
volunteer ESL tutoring. The town of Northfield is a natural
setting for this study, with a dominant anglophone culture and
significant Spanish- and Somalian- speaking subcultures.
In Northfield, the total population as determined by the U.S. census of
2000 is 17,147. Of this number, 15,324 claim to be white alone,
and 16,165 claim to be not Hispanic or Latino. The Hispanic and
Latino population (of any race) is 982, or 5.7% of the total. Of
this, 767 are Mexican, 23 are Puerto Rican, 19 are Cuban, and 173 are
“other”, probably from South American countries. Of the total
population 1,062 are foreign born, and 621 entered 1990 to March
2000. Of the foreign born, 302 are naturalized citizens (passing
some English tests to obtain this categorization), and 760 are not
citizens at all. Of the 1,062 foreign-born, 570 were born in
When considering the category “language spoken at
home,” the census only counts the population that is 5 years and over,
which is 16,290. Of this, 14,481 are English only speakers. 969,
or 5.9% of the total, speak Spanish at home; and of these, 665 speak
English less than “very well.” That means, effectively, that of
the 969 Spanish speakers who speak the language at home, 665, or 69%,
speak English at a level of intermediate and below.
Some systematic poverty (and by this, marginalization) linked to
ethnicity is shown by the initial reports of the 2000 census, but much
of the relevant data to this study and comparative statistics will not
be released until September of 2002. However, it is telling that
of the 4,693 occupied housing units in Northfield, 4,384 (93%) are
occupied by householders who are white alone, while only 181 (4%) are
Hispanic and Latino householders. Also, of the 181 Hispanic
and Latino households, the population is 795, making an average
household size of 4.39. Of the 4,497 white alone households, the
population is 11,202, making the average household size only 2.49, an
appreciable difference (2000 census, see bibliography).
In scientific, methodological, and linguistic studies a clear link has
been shown between social factors and secondary language acquisition.
Social factors are related to and include three components:
orientations, motivations, and attitudes. There is some debate as
to how these terms should be operationalized and defined and to what
degree they affect the secondary language learning process.
Despite this disagreement, there is consent that all three features
play a considerable role. One influential study states,
"Considerable research has demonstrated that achievement in a second
language is related to measures of attitudes and motivation." (Gardner,
Lalonde and Moorcroft, 1985, p. 207). The same research, which
correlated students' attitudes and motivation to achievement with 25
new vocabulary words, also maintains, "Attitudes and motivation and
language aptitude are important because they influence the rate at
which second language material is learned." (Gardner et. al., 1985,
p.225). Thus, negative orientations, motivations and attitudes
may cripple learning a secondary language, or L2.
Gardner, the leading figure in the field of language acquisition
theory, has defined orientation, motivation and attitude in several
influential studies. For the sake of simplicity, this study will
use his models of these three concepts, laid out in the next section.
Orientation refers to a class of reasons for learning a second
language. Gardner also likens the concept to a goal. Orientation
is separate although not dichotomous from motivation, and may or may
not be related to aspects of a particular motivation. (Gardner,
1985, p 54). It can be likened to a person's initial motivation
for studying a particular language.
Gardner's model divided orientation into two categories, integrative
and instrumental. A learner with integrative orientations has
positive attitudes towards the Target Language (TL) speakers, wants to
identify more closely with the TL culture, and would like to assimilate
into the TL community. A learner with instrumental orientations
aims to learn the language for functional purposes, including a job or
Motivation may play a major role in second language learning, but
disagreement arises, however, when we try to capture the essence of the
motivation construct. (Dornyei, 1994, p. 516) However,
according again to Gardner, motivation consists of three different
components, which include: the student's desire to learn the L2, the
personal effort the student uses for learning the L2, and their
attitudes toward learning the L2. Motivation concerns "those
factors that energize behavior and give it direction." (Hilgard,
1979, p. 281)
Attitudes, although included in motivation, also include the student's
outlook towards the learning situation. Attitudes toward the
learning situation could involve such things as the classroom or the TL
environment and or culture.
It is clear that orientations, motivation and attitudes can all affect
the success of total language acquisition. Much literature and
research has focused on the importance and differences between
integrative and instrumental orientations in learning languages.
The integrative orientation was originally favored as more successful
than the instrumental orientation. Meng-Ching Ho, a scholar from
the School of Education at the University of Durham, UK, writes,
“Gardner and Santo found that students who learn English with an
instrumental motivation are clearly more successful in developing
proficiency in this language than those who do not adopt this
motivation.” (Ho, 1998). Some applied linguists still assume that
students with integrative orientations were more genuinely interested
in the language. Also, in “Motivation and Language Learning with
Students of Chinese” Xiahong Wen (1997) found that most students choose
to study Chinese because it is relevant to their own cultural
background and because they are integratively interested in Chinese
people and culture (p. 242). Integrative orientations receive a
higher reputation for assisting students in successful language
learning at the advanced level.
However, both integrative and instrumental orientations are worthy and
should be developed. Again Wen (1997) writes:
Later studies [after Gardner’s original proposal of
integrative and instrumental orientations] found that instrumental
motivation was also an effective factor in L2 learning and integrative
motivation may not necessarily be superior to instrumental
motivation. Those who are integratively motivated, however, are
probably more successful at an advanced language level than those who
are not, mainly because psychological integration sustains interest in
learning the language longer. (p. 235-236)
Recent linguists such as Dornyei have refined the definition of
integrative and instrumental orientations. Working from Gardner’s
earlier studies, he clarifies that integrative and instrumental are not
antagonistic counterparts, but rather are inherently
interrelated. For example, a student merges both orientations
when he has the goal of speaking English in order to “talk to the
neighbors.” His goal is basically functional – perhaps he would
like to borrow the lawnmower – but also incorporates integrative
skills, such as getting to know the neighbor’s culture and its values
for future inclusion in that social group. There is no clear-cut
dividing line between the integrative and instrumental orientations
A study by Gardner, Lalonde, and Moorcroft, however, finds that the
real practical difference in results produced by instrumental or
integrative motivation bias is found in the long-term, not the short
term. Short-term learners will be initially enthusiastic but will
shortly fall behind, with the gap continuing to widen (p. 226).
Despite all the focus on integrative vs.
instrumental, the fact remains that whatever the motivation, many
immigrants do not have a choice about leaning English. This fact,
along with the attitude of English speakers toward non-native English
speakers has an equal or greater effect on the learning process than
the type of orientation. Francis and Ryan researched the prestige
of the English language and the English student’s motivation in
Mexico. Their research suggests that students living in Mexico
cannot have a positive motivation towards English Language Learning
because they are the subordinate culture. One political science
student in the study provides a striking example of how harsh the
America-Mexico cultural tension is:
We are used to our neighbors, the gringos, and
nobody likes them. In my department, it’s very obvious.
It’s always those abusive imperialist Americans. All these things
are always reflected in the class, and it is like going against the
current when the teacher wants to include cultural aspects in class….
From my point of view, understanding the culture helps you a lot in
understanding the language. I think that this is one of the
problems that has made it difficult to introduce culture, specifically
American culture, here (Francis and Ryan, 1998, p.31).
This attitude would seem to produce an instrumental motivation.
However, with the social devaluation produced by living as a
non-English speaker in a predominantly English-speaking society, comes
the impulse for total inclusion. This results in a peculiar mix
of instrumental and negative integrative orientations.
Francis and Ryan point out that negative cross-cultural tension will
affect the interaction among the various motivational sets, in turn
bearing upon the learner’s “high” or “low” affective filter. (p.
28). Cross-cultural tension affects the learner’s motivation and
makes the students self-conscious about using English. Thus, the
authors assert that when students feel socially devalued their
motivations become overly ambitious and more likely to fail in
long-term acquisition. (Francis and Ryan, 1998, p. 28) The
student is likely to form unreasonable goals of complete mastery of
perfect surface forms, resulting in very long periods of silence and a
reluctance to practice and take risks, and an unwillingness to create
original phrases with the language. These skills are essential to
successful mastery of any second language. Researchers studying
processes of L2 acquisition (e.g. Swain 1985) argue that talk is part
of the labor students must perform in order to learn an L2 (Olivo, 21).
The stigma associated with being an ESL student in a dominant
English-speaking culture is considerable and affects language learning,
resulting in marginalization. This boils down to uneven power
relationships (Cummins, 1994); a failure by the population to recognize
ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences (Kumbota, 1998);
marginalization; and a lack of trust between speakers of different
languages (Zanger, 1994). This attitude on both sides can
significantly affect the success or failure of ESL students. In a
study by Derwing, T., DeCorby, E., Ichikawa, J., and Jamieson, K., the
authors found that students who had completed the ESL program in school
(had succeeded) were much more likely to have had positive
relationships with native English-speaking classmates, and also had
more positive things to say about their native-English speaking peers
in general. In Olivo, the author studies a school in central
Toronto that has a majority of ESL students. He was able to conclude
that students do indeed gain prestige related to their proficiency in
English. Students claim power and status by initiated repair
sequences. Students who were unable to perform in English were
regarded with much less esteem (Olivo, 154-157).
The subjects used in this study were residents of
Northfield in Minnesota. They were selected randomly from a pool
of the available novice and advanced ESL students involved in two
different ESL groups in the area. Although the purpose of the
study was not only to examine Spanish-speaking students, lack of a
Somalian or Korean translator made speaking with these students next to
impossible, because at the current time no students of these
backgrounds were at an advanced enough level in English studies to
communicate on a practical level. There were more available
students of Spanish-speaking backgrounds that were either able to
communicate with me in Spanish or on an advanced enough level that
English could be used.
Subjects prior to the interview were told briefly of
the purpose of the study and assured of complete confidentiality, with
results available upon request. Selections were made on a
volunteer basis. In beginning research, there was an evident lack of
enthusiasm and/or willingness to take part in the interviews until it
was explained exactly what the topic of the study was and the short
length of the interview. Most were eager to talk about their
experiences once the nature of the study had been explained, and only
one person refused to talk to me at all, to the general amusement of
Twenty-five individual interviews were used, and two
focus groups of 6 and 9 individuals, respectively. The individual
interviews were used to get a more in-depth perspective on the
experiences of immigrants in Northfield. Originally the focus
groups were a choice that was forced because of time and location
constraints, but in some ways proved to be the more valuable of the two
because of the levels of participation that were drawn out of the
subjects because of the interactions and feedback from their
peers. Data were recorded on tape during the interviews and later
written up into field notes.
This study took place during small-group tutor time
in two different beginning ESL classrooms in Northfield,
Minnesota. One class, where roughly one-fourth (6) of the
interviews were conducted, was a mixed group of beginning and advanced
ESL students that met twice a week, Tues. and Thurs. from 6:30-9:30
p.m. They meet at the Advanced Learning Center in the Northfield
Community Resource Center. This class meets only from September to
June, with other summer programs intended to supplement the class
during the summer.
The other class meets during the summer from June
through September, and is divided into two different ability
groups. Beginners meet from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and advanced from
7:30 to 9:30 p.m. The majority of the interviews were taken from
these two groups. Of the two focus groups that were conducted,
one set of participants was drawn from the beginners and the other from
the advanced students. No appreciable difference in results
between the two groups was evinced.
Both ESL courses aim for proficiency in listening,
speaking, reading and writing, yet both classes used very different
methods for teaching the students. The winter class emphasized
writing and grammar drills. The course syllabus was based on a
standard ESL textbook that has units organized around themes (weather
and clothing, activities and times of day, etc.), and it provides
vocabulary and grammatical structures. At each tutor session,
tutors are given a worksheet from the text. The worksheets
contained grammar-centric written exercises such as, "Jose (like/likes
----------------_____ flowers." I was free to use any method to
help the students learn the material at hand. Additionally, the
teacher encouraged me to change the coursework and work on any other
appropriate material. The teacher himself did not understand
hardly any Spanish, despite the fact that the majority of his students
were Spanish-speaking, mostly from Mexico and other Central and South
The class was held in a room in a single room in the
NCRC. The atmosphere was inviting and modern, with a whiteboard
and a small teaching aid of plants and flowers that ran the length of
the room. There was one central table that all the students
gathered around. The teacher was approachable and friendly, and
concerned about the real progress that his students were making.
The winter program is run by and initiated by the
Community Action Center and the Dakota Prairie Adult Basic Education
Program. It is funded through public taxes, schools, the
community, and state aid. One central person that I spoke to at
length with over the phone at the Community Action Center and several
other people in the same office are in charge of movements to change or
expand the program, and exercise strict control over who teaches, when
the programs are offered, and what they teach.
The summer class was very different and had many
more learners at higher levels of proficiency, for reasons that were
unclear but can be speculated on. Students learn using both
languages, English and Spanish. The teacher herself was very
proficient, speaking about 50% English and 50% Spanish as needed to
explain concepts. The class was grammar-centric but also clearly
teacher-led, with grammar exercises brief and intended to supplement
the presented material. There were also many spontaneous asides,
further contributing to the learning in class. One explanation
for these differences may be that the summer teacher had been a
language teacher for Carleton, with a degree in ESL, Spanish, and
French. The winter class's teacher had an educational degree.
The class was held in the basement of St. Dominic’s
church in Northfield, MN. It is funded mostly by the church
itself and the Archdiocese of St. Paul, with some help provided by the
Dakota County Adult Basic Education Program, such as use of their copy
machine and teaching materials.
The summer classroom is not air-conditioned, despite
intense heat several days that I visited. There are many windows,
which help to give the room an open and inviting look. The walls
are full of teaching materials that are an indeterminate mix of
preschool and ESL instructional information, which some person at some
time decided to write the word “GOD,” at least once on every poster in
large green marker. The classroom is structured with 5 or 6 long
rectangular tables that face a small blackboard, with one table on the
side facing another wall but close to the front of the room.
Data were obtained using a questionnaire that was
designed to be open-ended so as to not limit their responses. The
questions explore the orientations of the students, such as: Why do you
want to learn English? (question #1). They delve into the
student's motivations, such as: effort to use English outside of class,
desire to learn English, and attitudes toward the English-speaking
community. And, finally, the questions investigate the student's
attitudes towards the learning situation outside of class.
All students took the questionnaire seriously, many seemed to enjoy
giving their viewpoint and opinions on the issues raised in the
survey. Responses were generally long and tended to deviate
slightly into other areas after long periods of time. Interviews
generally took about 20-30 minutes apiece, depending on the respondent
and also their familiarity with English or my level of comfort with
Data were analyzed by transcribing tape recordings from interviews and
analyzing responses. Responses were sorted by identifying similar
responses and looking at percentages of common responses and
themes. The questionnaire that follows is the one given to all
students; however, question #7 proved irrelevant or unmeasurable
because of the response.
1. Why do you want to speak English? (work, children, respect, to understand, communicate, etc.)
2. How many times a week do you come to ESL class?
3. Do you listen to English outside of class?
4. Do you speak English outside of class?
5. Do you read and write in English outside of class?
6. In what situations do you use English? (at the store, children, work, friends, family, etc.)
7. How many times a week do you use English in any non-classroom situation?
8. Do you have any worries or doubts about speaking English in your community?
9. How do you feel when you use English around English speakers?
10. Have you received negative treatment in any experiences using English in the native-English speaking community?
11. Do you think you will be treated differently when you speak more fluently?
12. What social situations do you feel comfortable speaking English in?
13. Can you tell me about any positive experiences using English?
14. What would you most like to learn in ESL class?
The questionnaire evaluated social factors in the
students' English learning environment. Not surprisingly, almost
all respondents reported having some negative experiences with
English. All reported feelings of cross-cultural tension.
Most feel marginalized and intimidated using English in the native
English community and many also freely volunteered that such an
atmosphere made learning English more difficult.
Of 25 interviews, the results follow:
1. Why do you want to speak English?
- 22 (88%)
- 08 (32%)
more respect - 17 (68%)
to understand - 24 (96%)
to communicate - 25 (100%)
2. How many times a week do you come to class?
Winter - average of 1.9 (offered 2)
Summer - average of 3.6 (offered 4)
3. Do you listen to English outside of class?
yes - 25 (100%)
4. Do you speak English outside of class?
yes - 22 (88%)
no - 3 (12%)
5. Do you read and write English outside of class?
yes - 25 (100%)
6. In what situations do you use English?
store - 17 (68%)
children - 16 (64%)
work - 12 (48%)
friends - 14 (56%)
family - 8 (32%)
7. How many times a week do you use English in a non-classroom situation?
answers vary wildly, unanswerable because of frequency of use
8. Do you have any worries or doubts about speaking English in your community?
yes - 15 (60%)
no - 10 (40%)
9. How do you feel when you speak English around native English speakers?
negative response - 24 (96%)
10. Have you received negative treatment in any experiences using English in the native English speaking community?
yes - 9
yes - 6
yes total - 15 (60%)
no - 10 (40%)
11. Do you think you will be treated differently when you speak more fluently?
yes - 25 (100%)
12. In what social situations do you feel comfortable speaking English?
friends - 12 (48%)
family - 7 (28%)
other - 6 (24%)
13. Can you tell me about any positive experiences using English?
yes - 9 (36%)
no - 16 (64%)
14. What would you most like to work on in ESL class?
reading - 3 (12%)
writing - 1 (4%)
speaking - 21 (84%)
all three equal - 23 (92%)
Additional Findings; Focus Groups
The same questionnaire was administered to the Focus
Groups as was administered to the individual subjects. The
results were typical and corresponded closely to the responses provided
in the individual interviews. However, more information,
anecdotes, and valuable tangents were produced from the groups.
There was more discussion without the formal and perhaps intimidating
setting of the one-on-one interview. Each session ended up being around
40 minutes in length, a little longer for the beginner's group
(probably because of some difficulties and slowness inherent in
translation and communication).
As in the individual interviews, the main reason
that the learners wanted to speak English was to be more involved and
aware. Work was a universal reason to learn English; even if
English was not required for the job that they presently had, it would
be advantageous for them both personally and economically to learn
English. The beginners felt most strongly about this issue, with
many hoping to find a better job when they had a more solid grasp on
the language. Also, many of the mothers and fathers were very
concerned with their children’s education. Most of the children
knew English to at least some extent, but parents were unable to be as
involved with aspects of their children’s education, something that
they perceived as being very valuable. However, the general
consensus was that it was “almost impossible” not to know English in
Despite the attendance results that showed that some
students did not make it to class at times, all of the interviewees
were definitive that they went to class “as much as possible.”
However, although the groups seemed less interested in the reasons why
they might not be able to make it to class, in both discussions work
arose as one possible reason why they might not be able to make it.
Everyone had learned about the class from friends
and word of mouth. The original way that it had been announced,
as told to me by the teacher, was from the pulpit of the church that
the class was held in. She also is the founder and director of
the Hispanic choir in the church, and indicated to me that many of her
students were in the choir and had been told about it there, but the
choir was not mentioned at all except in the beginner’s group, and
there only briefly. There are also printed advertisements that
can be found in some local area apartments, but those were not
mentioned either, and it seems unlikely that the sign would have
attracted many people, since it was entirely in advanced English.
When I asked the advanced group how many times they
listened to and spoke English outside of class, general laughter broke
out. It seems I had asked a rather silly question. When I
inquired as to what was amusing, the reply was, “all the time, every
day!” One of the more outspoken respondents wisecracked with,
“rather you should ask us how often we speak Spanish!” However, I
didn’t get a chance to ask this question as the discussion rapidly
segued into how this constant speaking of English is difficult for the
respondents in several ways. The subjects generally felt forced
to speak English, and this was spoken of with some resentment.
However, this was contradicted somewhat by the next tangent that
discussed the value of reading newspapers in English. Some
reading is by choice; some is not, such as for work.
In Northfield, “everything is English.” Spanish is
spoken only with friends and family, and even then English is used for
various reasons such as practice and to make non-Spanish speakers
understand. One of the respondents described to me some problems
he had had recently trying to have a doctor examine him for some foot
pains that he had had. Another respondent related how he had
tried to get his brakes fixed the other week.
English is viewed as something not only highly
valuable but essential. Some worries that the ESL students had
was that they resented the fact that this was so and wished for more
Spanish-speaking shopkeepers, or at least more people who were able to
speak the language. The question of whether the students had any
worries or doubts about speaking English in the community was unclear
to most at the outset.
When the learners tried to speak English around
English speakers, their responses quickly made it clear that this was a
major emotional point with the overwhelming majority. When I
asked how the students felt about speaking English around English
speakers in the advanced class, students immediately glanced around at
each other for consensus, and then a spokesperson for the group
immediately and with some emphasis (and humor), said, “terrible.”
They feel very self-conscious about their lack of English skills and
that people are impatient and “think that they’re speaking
wrong.” They emphasized that this was very discouraging at
times. “Nobody helps you, is patient, except here in
class.” English speakers don’t respect the students' positions as
learners. This makes everyday situations very difficult all of
the time. One of the coping strategies that was discussed was the
method of the students’ to write words out onto a piece of paper, since
English speakers tend to ask things to be repeated several times.
However, it was emphasized that this was only when starting out, and
that it tends to make them feel very uncomfortable and it was of less
status to have to do this.
The overwhelming consensus of the respondents was
that people think that just because they don’t understand English very
well they are stupid. The second point raised at this time by the
advanced group was that immigrants are treated especially badly by the
police. However, this topic appeared to cause some discomfort and
was quickly dropped, except by the two children present, who appeared
to want to talk about a recent experience involving one of their
immediate neighbors. However, the parent cut them off, telling
them to be quiet. A phrase that came up in both of the groups was
the expression, apparently common, “if you don’t speak it (English),
move it.” This was pertaining to the prevalent attitude of native
English speakers toward English learners. They stated that in
Mexico, no one would ever treat them as people do here. When I
asked if they thought that things would change once they were more
proficient, the answer was that they hoped so. One anecdote told
to me by a man in the beginner’s group was of his experience the day
before of trying to buy pig’s feet (?) at the grocery store.
Apparently the cashier tried to say the item in question was $5 when
really they were $3. The respondent called him on it and the
cashier changed the price without comment.
The only situations where learners felt comfortable
speaking English was with friends. Strangers are almost always an
uncomfortable situation. The main times that learners had had any
positive experiences with using English was when they had struggled
through the situation to do something really worthwhile, such as at
their children’s school speaking to teachers, or communicating
effectively with supervisors on the job.
The things that learners would most like to focus on
remained communication in speaking. However, “everything
matters.” Although I did not specify any choices in the focus
groups, the conversation both times brought up the three topics of
reading, writing, and speaking. These were all spoken of as goals
to be worked hard at.
Attendance may be a reflection of the student's motivational desire to
succeed in class, and therefore the English language. However, in
the Northfield ESL class understanding the mental, social, and work
conditions of American immigrants explains the wide range of class
attendance. Following is a chart of the summer Northfield
attendance record, as provided by the teacher. The attendance is
variable, but there is not a high turn over rate of individual
students. There are 23 students registered for the beginner's
class and 15 for the advanced. Data were not available for the
Attendance records are not a valid judge of motivation in this
classroom. The students miss class for many reasons and because
of circumstances not under their control. The students may miss
class because their primary workplace has an evening shift and because
the students (most without driver's licenses) do not always have
transportation. According to my interviews with the two teachers
of the ESL summer and winter programs, it is not uncommon for even the
most dedicated students to miss a few days of class. Although the
summer classes do not seem to have as much of a problem with
transportation as the winter (perhaps because of their more central
location in the town) there are many other considerations that the
teacher mentioned that had been brought up by her students. For
instance, a primary problem in earlier years had been lack of childcare
during the classes. The problem was solved by the incorporation
of a nursery in the room next door where children of younger ages could
play safely and be monitored. However, the primary consideration
and obstacle to continued attendance is work schedules. Different
programs try to offer classes at different times in the day to make ESL
more accessible to learners, but the sheer amount of hours that most
immigrants work also presents a barrier to attendance. There are
many considerations besides lack of motivation that come into play when
looking at attendance rates.
DISCUSSION & CONCLUSION
Immigrants are a unique group of language learners. Unlike other
language students (college, etc.,) immigrants have seldom initiated
their study of the English language because of cultural interest.
Although they did choose to relocate to the United States, learning the
English language is merely a consequence of their move into a new
culture. They are immersed in an English-speaking environment,
and they have daily opportunities to hear and practice English.
Social tension and negative attitudes from the native English speakers,
who have little tolerance for foreign speakers, can in turn lower the
student’s attitudes about the English speaking community. One
consequence of such a learning environment is that it will inhibit the
student’s acquisition of language. The results of my case study
affirm the presence of negative attitudes between target culture and
the ESL students in the study.
The link discussed between social factors
(orientations, motivations, and attitudes) and L2 learning would show
that secondary language learners in the atmosphere of Northfield have
many obstacles to overcome in their pursuit of long-term mastery of the
Most of the students that I discussed in this report had orientations
that were more instrumental than integrative, when connected with
learning the language. Yet there was a great attraction to
popular culture and a wish for inclusion that was demonstrated by my
respondents, especially evinced in an individual response to the
question, Do you think that you will be treated differently when you
speak more fluently? “I hope so.”
ESL students in Northfield seem to sense and to intuitively act on
their non-official status as subordinates in a native-English speaking
culture. This leads to resentment and hostility towards English
. As a white, female, native-English speaking college student I
was quite the exception to the rule in the environments that I drew my
respondents from. To gain access and to validate my presence in the
class, in the course of this project I tutored the same classes I was
interviewing. While that may have fostered some good relationships
among several key respondents, the fact that I was there as a
(presumably) sympathetic tutor may have altered or biased their results
to my questions to some degree. In several discussions remarks
were stated that I “was there to help.” That, along with the
division in the students’ minds as to the levels of help expected in
and out of class leads me to believe that my presence did affect
answers. Although I cannot accurately guess as to in what
direction, I suspect that there is more hostility toward native English
speakers than was explicitly indicated in interviews.
However, all students seem to have, whether instrumental or
integrative, a high and strong desire to learn English, which may
offset somewhat the effects of the negative learning environment.
A typical orientation, “I want to learn how to speak like an American.”
Does display both instrumental and integrative purposes.
Additionally, high motivational intensity is shown by the respondent’s
high rates of speaking English out of the classroom and by the high
rate of attendance for ESL classes. Also, the extremely high
rates of responses indicating the goal of learning to communicate with
native speakers shows an integrative orientation.
An idea for further research would be to measure the rates of English
learning over a longer period of time and compare that to the attitudes
of respondents. This would provide a definitive measure of
integrative and instrumental orientations at work in the Northfield
community. Some consideration would have to be taken in
considering how long each subject had already been in the country or
had had schooling in English.
If Northfield as a city would like to make a
positive impact on their community and also serve the needs of its
non-English speaking community, a greater effort must be made for
education – not only of ESL but of awareness of the native-English
speaking community towards its English speakers. As of now, the
need for ESL classes themselves as evinced by demand has been filled by
city initiatives. There are several classes available that cater
to the needs of ESL students, all for free and most within city
limits. However, if Northfield would like to make that effort
realize its full potential, there must be action on both sides of the
community. One idea that was repeatedly mentioned was that of
translators in various places. According to my students, there is
too much demand and what is provided isn’t enough.
One other way to increase the effectiveness of ESL
classes by decreasing negative cultural bias would be an expanded
volunteer tutor program. As I tutored my students, I realized
that the tutoring was not helping so much to improve their English
skills as to improve their impressions of native English-speakers as a
whole. It can be a great cultural influence that can increase
students’ integrative outlooks and thereby improve students’
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