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Thread: What would you do if you were drafted?: offtopic about language

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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    If they can't speak the language, maybe they shouldn't be serving in the military, and maybe they should make an effort to learn! Ok, before the attacks start on me, hear this out! If you move to a new country because things were bad where you were...don't you think that learning the "native" language would be a good first move? I mean hell, I agreed to move to Japan with my wife, and I made steps to learn enough Japanese so not to embarrass my family, and to ensure that I won't get lost when out on my own!
    I won't touch that one here... I think it deserves a different thread... but if you're open to talking about it I am game :0)

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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    If you move to a new country because things were bad where you were...don't you think that learning the "native" language would be a good first move?
    I totally agree. I think people staying even for a few months in a country should learn (one of) the local language. In fact, I can't believe that some people applying for permanent residence or naturalization in some countries don't speak at least at a daily conversation level the country's language. But in the US, you can't even blame them for not speaking English, as English is not the official language. Actually the USA -except some states- don't have any official language, contrarily to most other developed countries (=> more info here), but nevertheless have very basic English language tests for people who wish to become US citizens.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    If they can't speak the language, maybe they shouldn't be serving in the military, and maybe they should make an effort to learn!
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I totally agree. I think people staying even for a few months in a country should learn (one of) the local language. In fact, I can't believe that some people applying for permanent residence or naturalization in some countries don't speak at least at a daily conversation level the country's language.
    Both of you are coming close (correct me if I'm wrong) to defending the alleged actions of the US ARMY's disproportionate targeting of Latinos and other minorities on the basis that these people should have made a better effort to learn English?

    That's interesting... I was under the impression that civil rights in the U.S. were blind to language. While we're at it, let's fire all the hispanic workers who don't speak English for trying to unionize--"well, they shoulda spoke English before they tried to get a job! Then they could have negotiated a proper contract with their employers." I hope this isn't what you're getting at.

    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    If you move to a new country because things were bad where you were...don't you think that learning the "native" language would be a good first move?
    Give these people a little more credit. If you spend any time at all in low income ethnic neighborhoods, you will see that many people are trying their hardest to get out and find success for themselves and their children.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chiquiliquis
    That's interesting... I was under the impression that civil rights in the U.S. were blind to language. While we're at it, let's fire all the hispanic workers who don't speak English for trying to unionize--"well, they shoulda spoke English before they tried to get a job!
    Well, there is little excuse for Spanish speakers living in the US not to speak English, except blatant laziness or mental retardation (elderly apart). Spanish shares 50% of its vocubulary with English and has a similar word order and even idioms. So it is actually very easy for them to learn English (and vice versa), and I don't see why any Spanish speakers living in the US for over a year shouldn't be able to speak good conversational English. I would be better disposed toward non-Latino-Germanic languages speakers though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I totally agree. I think people staying even for a few months in a country should learn (one of) the local language. In fact, I can't believe that some people applying for permanent residence or naturalization in some countries don't speak at least at a daily conversation level the country's language. But in the US, you can't even blame them for not speaking English, as English is not the official language. Actually the USA -except some states- don't have any official language, contrarily to most other developed countries (=> more info here), but nevertheless have very basic English language tests for people who wish to become US citizens.
    Interesting link that you provided, but I have one question (then I'll drop this discussion within this thread). If the questionaires were printed in different languages, how could they be sure that 97% speak English well? I'm sure if I read a questionaire in English asking about my Spanish ability I may answer a little differently than if I were made to read a questionaire in Spanish!

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    @Maciamo:
    ... you are, at most, half right (the way I see it). But, I'd like to know if you've actually done the research on this one. I work in the field, this is what my research tells me:
    With regard to acquisition of L2 language structure or syntax, research to date shows that the L1 has little influence. One study (Paradis and Genesee, 1996) which examines the syntactic acquisition of French-English bilingual children, aged 23 years, found no evidence of syntactic transfer from L1 to L2 and no evidence of acceleration or delay in the rate of acquisition (but see McLaughlin, 1987 on theories of markedness and restructuring). At the level of discourse, however, the L1 does seem to play a role in the way the L2 is acquired (Schachter and Rutherford, 1979). Often, what appear to be syntactic confusions in the learner's L2 are in fact the result of transference of discourse-level features from the L1 to the L2.

    *note: L1 and L2 refer to native and non-native/second languages respectively.

    Full text available here.
    What does this mean? It means that similar word orders (formal elements of language) in Spanish don't make English any easier. It also means that on a level of "discourse", Spanish (L1) interferrence may actually hamper English acquisition.

    Just because you went to a Spanish speaking country and noticed a few similar words to English doesn't mean there is a whole lot of substance to your argument. If you had ever spent any time with low income hispanic immigrants in the U.S. (and, I suspect, anywhere) you would know there are more factors at work than just "common words and idioms"

    According to the research (same source), this is exactly what is at stake in second language acquisition:
    ... L2 acquisition is influenced by many factors, including elements of the L1, the input and interaction necessary for successful L2 acquisition, and sociocultural factors in the school, home and community context.
    What does this mean? It means that saying people who don't learn English successfully enough to be "functioning" members of society are either lazy or retarded is a bit simplistic (and narrow-minded to say the least!) Socio-cultural factors--income, class/social status, quality of education, discrimination, etc--are all going to influence how easily you acquire a new language.

    I would add, as well: this all might be a footnote to the fact that not everyone who comes to this country (The US) is even literate in their first language. In the case of low income hispanics from LA to NY, to Madrid and to Tokyo, this first language may not even be Spanish! What does your statement mean for Guatemalans coming to the US with Quiche or Qakchiquel as their first language? Schools in California have been throwing Spanish-English bilingual classes at these people for decades now, under the misguided assumption that this will somehow benefit them. Not when they don't speak Spanish fluently, and are barely literate. If they are LUCKY, maybe they are literate in their first language; living under oppressive governments (do the research: Guatemala, El Salvador, Southeastern Mexico) usually doesn't allow them this luxury.

    Time for me to make some sort of pretense at earning my pay... back to work.

    @CC1: I hope you see my point too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chiquiliquis
    What does this mean? It means that similar word orders (formal elements of language) in Spanish don't make English any easier. It also means that on a level of "discourse", Spanish (L1) interferrence may actually hamper English acquisition.
    ...
    What does this mean? It means that saying people who don't learn English successfully enough to be "functioning" members of society are either lazy or retarded is a bit simplistic (and narrow-minded to say the least!) Socio-cultural factors--income, class/social status, quality of education, discrimination, etc--are all going to influence how easily you acquire a new language.
    I am talking about personal experience. I speak French and Italian fluently, I am now conversational in Japanese (enough to read easy books or understand most TV programmes) and I have also learned Spanish, German and Dutch, and used to be conversational in the 2 former.

    I know that it is much easier for me to learn a Latino-Germanic language than another one like Japanese. I went to Germany with almost no knowledge of German at all, and after 4 months I could make myself understood in most daily situations. I learnt Italian 1 year by myself, then went to Italy to study it, and because it is so similar to French, I could speak it very fluently after just 2 months (I mean, better than Japanese after 3 years in Japan married to a Japanese !). And I am not even gifted for languages. I was lagging at school in all foreign language classes I have taken, because I didn't like the way it was taught and just didn't care about studying them. So I acquired all my language skills (including English) mostly by myself, or just by living in a country where the language was spoken. Much more efficient than taking lessons in a school.

    So I can only assume that Spanish speakers living in the US for a few months or years who can't speak English are not making any effort to, and even more than that, are determined not to learn English. Just by being in Japan for 3 years, hearing people around me, TV, seeing signs, etc. was enough for me to become fluent in Japanese. I only took lessons or used books to study by myslef in the first 6 months after arriving, and I couldn't speak even after 1 year. So the 2 years in which I made the most decisive progress, I didn't study at all (well, yes, I do check words I don't know in the dictionary everytime I can, but that's all).

    I would add, as well: this all might be a footnote to the fact that not everyone who comes to this country (The US) is even literate in their first language.
    That is even more unbelievable. What do you mean by "literate". If you mean being able to read and write (first definition of the Oxford dictionary), it only takes 1 year for schoolchildren to learn it, and probably just a few days or weeks for a motivated adult (I learnt to read and write hiragana and katakana in less than a month, and to read Hangul in just 1 day). If you mean "educated and knowledgeable" (2nd definition), then less than 1% of the world population is, IMHO. And that does not hamper them from reading a contract carefully or do most ordinary jobs (like president of the United States ).

    In the case of low income hispanics from LA to NY, to Madrid and to Tokyo, this first language may not even be Spanish!
    Then they are not Hispanics. By definition, Hispanic means related to Spain or Spanish-speaking countries or people. Would you consider a Quechua speaking Bolivian to be a Hispanic ? I don't.

    What does your statement mean for Guatemalans coming to the US with Quiche or Qakchiquel as their first language?
    Not Hispanics, but "Native Americans" (or "Amerindians"). Watch out the words you use.

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    :0)

    Please check all that applied in your L2 experiences:
    - Broken home
    - Neighborhood violence
    - Racism and discrimination in the workplace
    - Racism and discrimination at school
    - No appropriate tools for measuring L1 at school
    - No access to L2 at home
    - Iliteracy in L1
    - Dyslexia
    - No TV/Telephone/Internet

    You aren't the only one here who speaks more than one language. Our successes don't mean that everyone should have as easy a time learning languages as we did. Does your experience attempt to speak for the world? This is called, according to the Chiquiliquis Dictionary 1) being ridiculously narrow-minded 2) a very slippery argument.

    Remember, Maciamo: when you "assume" you make an ass out of u and me. Do your research, and don't just think that because you happen to speak 25 languages you know the first thing about why you speak them, or how other people learn. Language acquisition occurs both consciously and subconsciously. If you would like to see the research on this, I would be glad to show you. But, DO NOT FORGET: We are all different people.

    I grew up next door to a good many people who, if they aren't dead before their 25th birthdays, will spend their entire lives struggling against a society that does not want to grant them citizenship (not in the political sense, but the social sense).

    I'll tell you a story (and you have my assurances, I have seen all of these things happen):

    Once upon a time, there was a boy named X. X's parents didn't speak English, but they worked hard as migrant farmers in Podunk (USA) to send money back to their family in xcountry. When X arrived in Podunk, his parents took him to school. X was ripe and ready for kindergarten. The school placed X in a K/1 ESL class with the hopes of mainstreaming him into regular classes by the end of the third grade. After a few months in kindergarten, X's teacher felt that X was performing below an acceptable standard, so she approached the district's parental advocate in regards to having X tested for placement into a "special education" (RETARD) class. The district advocate, who speaks Spanish, but not natively, pays a visit to X's parents. The advocate talks to X's parents, who are shocked at their sons poor performance, and consent to having him tested.

    The test is given to X in Spanish, as his parents both speak Spanish at a functionally fluent level, the advocate had assumed (beware that word!) that X also spoke Spanish. The truth of the matter, however, is that the school district has no access to intelligence tests in X's native language (in fact, his language group is such a minority, that no test exists--at least none within the confines of the U.S.). X fails the test miserably, and is accordingly placed into a special ed. class.

    Eventually, X begins to show positive signs of L2 acquisition (at a great disadvantage). By the third grade, the error is realized, and he is placed back into ESL classes. By the end of his fourth grade, however, it is revealed that X is dyslexic. X's parents live in a housing project called La Paloma. They do not have the money to send X to a dyslexia correctional program, and their employer (Farmer White) is not about to pick up the tab.

    X struggles through the 5th grade, and by the 6th grade his parents start getting phonecalls from the school in regards to behavioral issues. His father beats him accordingly.

    By middle school, X has reached a point where he can speak "playground" English with a substantial amount of ease ("gimme the ball"; "what ball?"; "the red ball, over there"). He still struggles with dyslexia, and cannot yet fully participate in mainstream classes; at this point he is in a bilingual (Spanish/English) program. It does not matter that he barely speaks Spanish; due to budget cuts, this is the only ESL program at his middle school. Many of his classmates make fun of his poor performance. X has grown to resent school, and now begins to develop attendance problems.

    From here, there are a few possible outcomes (this is where it gets fun... it's like "Choose Your Own Adventure":

    1). X finds peace with the only people who don't tell him he is worth less than they are. He overdoses on cocaine at the age of 17.

    2). X finds peace with the only people who don't tell him he is worth less than they are. After a short career in crime, he is caught breaking and entering and finds himself in and out of prison for the rest of his life.

    3). X continues struggling through highschool. While he has had issues, and fell into the wrong crowds from time to time, he has always had a good heart. He hasn't had the best of educations, and he knows he has little chance of succeeding in the "real world". When he is a senior, a USARMY recruiter convinces him to sign the dotted line. Looking at the writing at the bottom of the application, his head spins as he struggles to read. He wouldn't be able to understand all of what is written there, but it wouldn't matter, as his dyslexia makes reading it all the more dificult. He takes the recruiters word that he will be safe in the service. He figures, "it has to be better than this."

    The End...

    or is it?

    If you're not clear on the definition of "illiterate" please go visit your local immigrant-refugee counseling service and find out if they offer language assistance to their clients. Sit in on one of the lessons. Or, head into the poorest immigrant neighborhood you can find, and ask the people there if they are "trying hard enough".

    If you would like to talk about what "hispanic" means, let's start another thread... but I fully accept and understand you position on this... though I fail to see it's relevance to this thread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chiquiliquis
    Please check all that applied in your L2 experiences:
    - Broken home
    - Neighbourhood violence
    - Racism and discrimination in the workplace
    - Racism and discrimination at school
    - No appropriate tools for measuring L1 at school
    - No access to L2 at home
    - Illiteracy in L1
    - Dyslexia
    - No TV/Telephone/Internet
    Do you mean all those which I experienced while learning a foreign language. Won't say broken home, but I almost always learnt when I lived abroad by myself, far from my family. Racism and discrimination in the workplace ? Well, I learned all those language (but Japanese) before getting my first job. As for Japanese, we could argue that there is some form of Racism and discrimination toward foreigners in Japan. No access to L2 at home ? Of course, my parents don't speak any foreign language fluently.

    You aren't the only one here who speaks more than one language. Our successes don't mean that everyone should have as easy a time learning languages as we did. Does your experience attempt to speak for the world? This is called, according to the Chiquiliquis Dictionary 1) being ridiculously narrow-minded 2) a very slippery argument. No TV/Telephone/Internet ? I didn't watch TV or touch a computer during about 5 years because of eyes problems. During that time, I learned 5 foreign languages. By that time, I had never used the Internet and almost never used the phone (except public phones ?).

    Anyway, I don't think these factors substantially refrain people from learning a language (at the contrary, it stimulates them). Dyslexia is the only one, but you won't make me believe that all the "Hispanics" in the US who don't speak English are dyslexic.

    But, DO NOT FORGET: We are all different people.
    But not different species. All non-retarded humans have similar capabilities, given the enough motivation. I don't believe in "natural gifts". I used to be very bad at foreign languages, but I could reverse this through efforts, motivation and improved changing my learning methods.


    The test is given to X in Spanish, as his parents both speak Spanish at a functionally fluent level, the advocate had assumed (beware that word!) that X also spoke Spanish.
    If you are referring to an IQ test, the only reliable ones are "non-verbal" and thus one's first language does not matter at all. I can't believe that the US educational system would consider someone as "retarded" without making such a test, and without making sure what is someone's mother tongue.

    By the end of his fourth grade, however, it is revealed that X is dyslexic.
    Alright, but you are talking about exceptions, not the average people.


    By middle school, X has reached a point where he can speak "playground" English with a substantial amount of ease ("gimme the ball"; "what ball?"; "the red ball, over there"). He still struggles with dyslexia, and cannot yet fully participate in mainstream classes
    If other children all speak English (or Spanish) and the teachers do too, there is no reason any normal child wouldn't pick up the language naturally. What about expats' children who join classes in a foreign country in a language they do not understand at all, but can speak fluently after a year or two, even when their parents can't. I know many such cases. I also know cases of refugees (to Europe) whose children picked up the language at school without any difficulty, even slang and dialects. It took a bit longer for the parents (maybe 3 to 5 years) to become fluent, but eventually they managed, even without any money.


    If you're not clear on the definition of "illiterate" please go visit your local immigrant-refugee counselling service and find out if they offer language assistance to their clients.
    Well, as a matter of fact they do. And all for free, especially for refugees and immigrants. But that is in Europe, not in the US.

    If you would like to talk about what "Hispanic" means, let's start another thread... but I fully accept and understand you position on this... though I fail to see it's relevance to this thread.
    What you missed is my insistence that Spanish speakers can learn English quite easily. I never mentioned Native Americans speaking rare languages.
    Last edited by Maciamo; 16-01-12 at 13:39.

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    I think the argument here is over two different things.

    1. Social conditions in America that are not conducive to learning English, and the military's subsequent capitalization upon it.

    and

    2. Language aquisition and the responsiblity of an individual to be in accordance with common language use.

    Growing up in neighborhood were most people had relatives who spoke English badly or not all, I can agree with what I think Chiq is saying. Mexican Americans make up a massive part of Chicago, and just about everything in the city is written in English and Spanish. In some neighborhoods, almost everything is in Spanish, and not English. Billboards, signs, advertisements, etc. Poor immigrants who come to America seeking a better life make up a HUGE part of the U.S., and of course many of them don't speak English because they didn't have the chance or time to learn it in their own country. So, kids growing up with parents who aren't native English speakers, in neighborhoods were everything isn't just in English, tend to be disadvantaged when it comes to that sort of thing.

    On the other hand, it's their responsibility to understand English. (Being a responsible citizen?) However, the military using this handicap for their own purposes is pretty damn low, I'd say.

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    @Maciamo... you are failing to engage any of my points at any depth. You obviously didn't experience many of the pressures that low income imigrant refugees are under while they go through the process of learning a second language.

    You can argue all you want that none of the points I brought up in my last post have an influence on L2 acquisition. Or you can accept the fact posed not only by me, but the study I posted, that the role of sociocultural factors has everything to do with how you acquire a new language. You have your own success stories and you have witnessed many others. When you make an effort to move beyond this, and work with those who are failing, you will have no choice but to recognize the role these factors play. Moreover, you will find that many of them are making great efforts.

    I can't tell you enough times: go out and talk to these people. You may speak 50 languages. You may have learned all those languages with relative ease; I don't doubt that you are a hard worker. That doesn't mean you know the first thing about the world, or about true struggle (X, being a pretty good example).

    If you don'ty buy into any given part of the story I wrote for you, come out to a little town north of Seattle, Washington and I will introduce you to students who have been placed into special ed classes because there were no methods for measuring their competence. I will show you instances of everything that happened to X (including each of the possible outcomes at the end of the story).

    If you show me the research that backs your position(s), I'd be happy to go on with this discussion until we are both blue in the face. Thus far, it seems that your argument has amounted to this: That can't be so, because I didn't experience it that way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    What you missed is my insistence that Spanish speakers can learn English quite easily. I never mentioned Native Americans speaking rare languages.
    I haven't missed any of your points. If you refer to a few posts back, you will find an article suggesting that this statement depends on (here it comes): sociocultural factors.

    You're right. You never mentioned Native Americans. I brought it up as a means to illustrating how complicated the situation can be for some people. If X, in my story, were actually a native Spanish speaker, he wouldn't have it that much easier.

    Don't believe me... go volunteer at one of those immigrant refugee counseling services.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mad pierrot
    Growing up in neighborhood were most people had relatives who spoke English badly or not all, I can agree with what I think Chiq is saying. Mexican Americans make up a massive part of Chicago, and just about everything in the city is written in English and Spanish. In some neighborhoods, almost everything is in Spanish, and not English. Billboards, signs, advertisements, etc.
    This kind of Spanish town, little the Chinatown or Little Italy, show a strong desire by their residents NOT to integrate themselves to the English-speaking majority. That is their decision, but then they shouldn't blame anybody for not finding jobs which require them to speak English. It's common sense that if they want to integrate the English-speaking community, they shouldn't stay in such ghettos in the first place (or go somewhere else as soon as they can, or just not complain about what they get there).

    Quote Originally Posted by chiquiliquis
    You obviously didn't experience many of the pressures that low income imigrant refugees are under while they go through the process of learning a second language.
    You are mistaken. Some good friends of my family are Russian immigrants. They came to Belgium about 5 years ago, with 2 children aged 7 and 9. They had to leave everything in Russia (actually near Chechenya) and came as political refugees, with no job, no money, no experience of foreign countries and speaking only Russian. 1 year after arriving, the children could already speak quite well French (and it isn't the easiest language to learn). The parents became fluent after about 2 or 3 years. But of course, the kids were not segregated at school, the parents got free language lessons from the center for immigrants, etc. Don't they have that in the US ? Belgium has 10% non-Belgian (and mostly Arabs, Turks, Black Africans or Eastern Europeans) among its population, but I haven't met a single illiterate and only people who have just arrived can't speak one (or more) of the country's 3 official languages. So, why again immigrants to the US would have more difficulty ?


    If you don'ty buy into any given part of the story I wrote for you, come out to a little town north of Seattle, Washington and I will introduce you to students who have been placed into special ed classes because there were no methods for measuring their competence.
    If I understand you well, you are saying that this little town north of Seattle lacks modern methods of coping with immigrants. Isn't the US a traditionally immigrant country ?

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    It's common sense that if they want to integrate the English-speaking community, they shouldn't stay in such ghettos in the first place
    I agree with you. Unfortunately, at least in Chicago that was very hard to do until recently, and there are still problems. Literally, there are all kinds of cases where realitors refused to sell homes to people. There are many well-documented cases of African Americans being discriminated against, keeping them out of "white" suburbs. It doesn't happen as much as it used to, or as overtly, but it still does. Sadly, Chicago is very segregated.

    I still think two different things are being talked about here, social restraints en masse and individual responsibilities. Sounds damn like the nature/nurture debate.

    Is society responsible for the individual or is the individual responsible for society?
    Last edited by mad pierrot; 08-10-04 at 06:53.

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    @Mad Pierrot: enjoying the meta-assessment :0) I had not thought of this in these terms.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    It's common sense that if they want to integrate the English-speaking community, they shouldn't stay in such ghettos in the first place...
    I think I agree with you that people generally want to be functional within society. I don't, however, agree with your apparent optimism regarding how easy it must be to "up and leave" the ghetto.

    You are mistaken. Some good friends of my family are Russian immigrants.
    No, I'm not mistaken. If you look at my post again, you will notice that I very explicitly said that YOU obviously had not experienced any of the many pressures that low-income immigrants face in learning a second language. I did NOT say that you had never met someone who was faced with these pressures. Why bother with this point? Because you have based many of your arguments on YOUR personal experience. If you never experienced any of these hardships yourself, what right do you have to speak for those who have? All of these hardships, in one way or another, fall under the category of "sociocultural" factors that influence the way in which we acquire a second language.

    ... the kids were not segregated at school, the parents got free language lessons from the center for immigrants, etc. Don't they have that in the US ?
    Some places do, others don't... the U.S. government allocates a given amount of money to help fund programs to that end. That doesn't mean everywhere in the U.S. has the capital (human, or otherwise) to provide the service. If you are working two fulltime jobs at minimum wage, do you necessarily have time to attend these programs?

    So, why again immigrants to the US would have more difficulty ?
    Again, I would suggest that you look at the sociocultural factors influencing the successes of your acquaintances. What was going on in their house, at work, or at school, that was different from those who had yet to acquire their L2? Were they working two jobs, neither of which required them to operate in the L2? Was there a strong support network between parents and children? Were they discriminated against in school or at work on the basis of their race, color, etc.? There are any number of differences that would account for the successes of your acquiantances.

    If I understand you well, you are saying that this little town north of Seattle lacks modern methods of coping with immigrants. Isn't the US a traditionally immigrant country ?
    I'm not sure what you're asking here... Is there a point you're getting at?

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