Immigrant children in America Integration by Language Assimilation and Education

Seminar Paper, 2003

25 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)



1. Introduction
1.1 The Integration of Immigrants into the American Society
1.2 Assimilation as Conception for Integration

2. Language and Multiculturalism
2.1 Language Assimilation and Biculturalism
2.2 Language – A Criterion for Exclusion?
2.2.1 A Historical Overview: Testing Linguistic Proficiency
2.2.2 English Proficiency on General Plane

3. Immigrant Children in the United States
3.1 Problems with Data Research

4. Schooling and Educational Success of Immigrant Children
4.1 Formal Education Institutions and the Media: Acquisition of Linguistic Proficiency
4.2 Controvercies on Bilingual Classes and the English-Only Movement

5. California – A Case Study
5.1 Proposition

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

During the work on my seminar paper in this seminar “Immigration Country: USA” – that introduced modern conceptions of citizenship in the United States – I questioned the process of naturalization as an instrument to integrate immigrants as well as the including language test where immigrants must prove their ability to write, speak and read English. This theme led me to the question if language works as an instrument for integration or exclusion in contemporary multiethnic America - language and education, both very important for ones forthcoming in a society.

In this homework I can only work on a small aspect on immigrant’s integration, so I intend to follow the questions how well immigrant children adapt to their American host society through schooling and the educational system and what role language assimilation plays in the American society that undergoes a continuing flow of immigrants of diverse ethnicities.

Does the assimilation of the English language help for better integration, what does integration mean in this special context and what impacts does it have on immigrant children? What are their future prospects and is the common assumption true “no English language proficiency – no integration – no success”? How does the nation, state or schools react on the growing numbers of LEP students? I followed the pros and cons for bilingual classes and regarding this context the English-only Movement and its demands of American schools and its students.

1.1 The integration of immigrants into the American Society

Immigration is once again transforming the racial as well as ethnic contours of American Society. Current estimates place annual immigration to the United States (legal and undocumented) at about 1 million persons per year (National Research Council 1997) and it won’t take long until the European Americans will no longer be a majority but African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans. This shift might be a beginning of a revolutionary change in the relationship between the majority and minority Americans. Maybe that will be an end to a social and cultural dominance of European-Americans and a flowering of multiculturalism.

So the question of integration of immigrants is coming more and more into focus. The socio-cultural immigrant adaptation process is largely influenced by the question if it is voluntary or involuntary migration. Political refugees e.g. maintain a strong attachment to the home country and an aspiration to return, should political conditions change. But in turn it could drive these refugees to more political activities e.g. participation in ethnic organisations etc. Immigrant adaptation is influenced, too, by pre-migration conditions, e.g. motives and intentions of migrants, that influence as well the migrant’s willingness to learn the new language, depending on how long they plan to stay in the United States, the transitional experience in moving from one country to another, the migrant’s characteristics and conditions in the receiving countries, including government policies as well as economic factors. A lot of other important factors determine the grade of adaptation such as age on arrival in the new country, the immigrant’s education and qualifications and the types of social network. This is such a mulidimensional process in which cultural integration interacts with economic adaptation, social integration, satisfaction and degree of identification with the new country.

1.2 Assimilation as conception for integration

But does integration mean assimilation? There are several models of assimilation providing the dominant motif in the way the immigrant-ethnic experience has been interpreted. When assimilation is understood as a conception where ethnic minorities become sort of copies of the ethnic majority, they are loosing all what makes them distinctive and so this term imposes a bland homogeneity where a more interesting heterogeneity had existed before. Does it mean to successfully learn a new life for getting full acceptance, to unlearn its cultural traits?

To look at the American Society one can obviously see, that this older version of the conception of assimilation is not working, because the American Society is far from being homogeneous and immigrants has always affected American Society as much as American Society has affected the immigrant ethnicity. A more recent theory “... sees assimilation as the decline, and only at some ultimate endpoint the disappearance, of an ethnic distinction and its allied differences.”[1] So this conception implicates that it must not be a wholly one-side pro-cess, it can take place in more than one group and just shrink the differences and social distances between them. It might be a small series of shifts that take place over generations and those who are undergoing such assimilation still carry ethnic characteristics in a number of ways. That means assimilation does not require fully extinction of ethnic difference.

When and why does assimilation start? Is it a process one can escape from or is it rather an unintended or maybe directly intended, cumulative by-product of choices made by individuals seeking to take advantage of opportunities to improve their social or financial situations?

Often immigrants work much of the time, frequently at jobs they probably would reject at home and sleep in shifts in apartments occupied by large groups of fellow immigrants. Their behaviour is entirely oriented toward the goal of earning as much money to send home as possible. But after some time passed by generally a change sets in: they work less and enjoy their leisure time more and consume more of the money they earn. A process of incorporation starts here, that often will not end in one’s lifetime but instead continue into the lives of one’s children and grandchildren who adapt to these achievements. This point is from major importance for this homework. At this juncture incorporation describes a “...process by which immigrants and their descendants change from being outsiders-in-residence, whose participation in the host society is limited to its labor market and who remain in many respects oriented toward their homelands, to natives.”[2]

2. Language and Multiculturalism

If we take multiculturalism as a conception in a society that includes diverse cultures with distinctive ethnic origins then the question might be raised how they might live peacefully side by side, when most of these groups are growing as minorities into a majority. This conception implies the thought that the majority is willing, at least in some circumstances, to adopt measures that assure the survival of a minority culture and in the way around minority members may abandon their native cultures in some part to accept the majority one. This last position might be one of disadvantage but later I will come back to this point regarding language assimilation and the controversies about bilingual classes.

If we take language diversity as an index for multiculturalism, the United States was at least as polyglot in the early 20th century as it is today. There was a widespread extent of bilingual public schools then; teaching in German and English, maybe one could understand that as a multicultural ambition. But what about these ambitions today? Is a bilingual school an option for faster or better integration of immigrant children or does it make it a hardship for them?

2.1 Language assimilation and bilingualism

A society of plural cultures existing on a plane of parity implies an end to the hegemony of the English-language-based culture. In the past has a powerful process of linguistic assimilation generally produced ethnics who speak English to the exclusion of their mother tongue within three generations of immigration. This process of language acquisition occurs more rapidly today, certainly by the second generation, because the immigrants have fewer possibilities to isolate themselves and their children from the Anglophone culture of the majority and of course they know about the advantages and essentiality of English proficiency. Bilinguals obviously have many advantages in a global economy.

A good – and contradicted as to be seen later - example might be Los Angeles, where the public use of Spanish, and to the lesser extent other immigrant languages, is widespread and dominantly in use. Even in neighbourhoods, where normally English dominates, Spanish is a constant background, spoken by the immigrants who fill many services and other manual jobs. So language assimilation is less likely when an immigrant’s native culture and language is broadly represented in his new environment. There might be no need for English proficiency.

But another important factor to see is how much an immigrant needs skills in a second language in order to economic success. An unskilled labourer on a construction site may not need to be able to communicate orally in the majority language in order to function effectively; maybe the majority language in this special environment is of his own minority language. But a doctor, lawyer or teacher in contrast must have a high degree of oral fluency and literacy in the majority language before adapting at a level appropriate to his previous education and qualifications.

This situation of biculturalism can be expected to intensify and extend itself, as the sizes of the first and second immigrant generations, who are mostly the bilinguals, grow during the current process of mass immigration. “Yet when the focus turns away from the collective plane to that of individuals, the currents of assimilation, especially intergenerational assimilation, come much more plainly into view.”[3] A survey Portes and Rumbaut have undertaken in 1994 of the children of immigrants in Miami and San Diego showed that most of them preferred to speak English (nearly three-quarters of total) and in 1997 a new survey, using original respondents, even showed an increase of competency in English, while that in their mother tongue has declined. (See Table 1) “Such data suggest that the pressures to convert to English have not abated. Maybe they have intensified, since globalization assists linguistic assimilation because of the emerge of English as a worldwide lingua franca and the general currency and prestige of cultural products produced in English.”[4]

Table 1[5]

English and heritage language proficiency of second generation immigrant youth


illustration not visible in this excerpt

Mexicans probably establish the outer limit of what is possible in preserving bilingualism because the large size and lengthy history of the Mexican group that is concentrating in states along the Mexican-U.S. border produced a well working network of an infrastructure supportive of Spanish. But by the third and later generations, about 60 percent of Mexican children (age 5-14) speak only English at home.


[1] Alba, 1999: P. 5

[2] Alba, 1998: P. 1

[3] Alba, 1999: P. 7

[4] Alba, 1999: P. 7

[5] Portes and Hao, 1998: P. 269-294

[6] Census 2000 Supplementary Survey

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Immigrant children in America Integration by Language Assimilation and Education
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Institute for Sociology)
PS Einwanderungsland USA: Historische Entwicklung und aktuelle Integrationsfragen
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
516 KB
This work follows the questions how well immigrant children adapt to their American host society through schooling and the educational system, what role language assimilation plays here and the controvercies about bilingual education.
Immigrant, America, Integration, Language, Assimilation, Education, Einwanderungsland, Historische, Entwicklung, Integrationsfragen
Quote paper
Birgit George (Author), 2003, Immigrant children in America Integration by Language Assimilation and Education, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Immigrant children in America   Integration by Language Assimilation and Education

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free