Columbia College Professor Investigates How Language Acquisition Affects Integration into Society

To better understand how cultural stereotypes equate language acquisition with the idea of good citizenship, Columbia College assistant professor Dr. Miranda E. Wilkerson researched 19th and early 20th century German immigrants living in Wisconsin.

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“We can look at the current public discourse about immigrant groups, compare it to historical records and ask, ‘Do these views bear out from a historical viewpoint?’ They really don’t,” said Wilkerson.

Columbia, MO (PRWEB) September 30, 2013

To better understand how cultural stereotypes equate language acquisition with the idea of good citizenship, Columbia College assistant professor Dr. Miranda E. Wilkerson researched 19th and early 20th century German immigrants living in Wisconsin. Wilkerson found that this population was slow to learn English, and she suggests today’s Latino immigrants are learning English much quicker.

“We can look at the current public discourse about immigrant groups, compare it to historical records and ask, ‘Do these views bear out from a historical viewpoint?’ They really don’t,” said Wilkerson.

The research, done collaboratively with Joseph Salmons at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows that American-born second- and third-generation German immigrants were slow to learn English because they were able to lead full, productive lives without learning it. Wilkerson also found that being marginalized socially, geographically or economically weren’t reasons why the immigrants did not learn English, and their Anglo-American counterparts did not consider them to be poor citizens for not speaking English.

“German-Americans were profoundly patriotic and inspired by American culture and saw themselves as good Americans,” said Wilkerson. “They did not see speaking German as a barrier to being good Americans.”

Wilkerson’s research was highlighted in an ABC News article published in June, which compared her research to a 2012 Pew study examining how quickly today’s Latino immigrants are learning English. The Pew study found that 92 percent of American-born second-generation Latinos speak English “very well,” and third generation Latinos are almost completely English-monolingual or bilingual. These findings agreed with Wilkerson and Salmons’ research that suggests today’s immigrants are actually acquiring English much faster than 19th and 20th century immigrants.

Wilkerson holds a Ph.D. in applied German linguistics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she serves as Columbia College’s English for Speakers of Other Languages coordinator.

Founded in 1851 in Columbia, Mo., Columbia College has been helping students advance their lives through higher education for more than 160 years. As a private, nonprofit, liberal arts and sciences institution, the college takes pride in its small classes, experienced faculty and quality educational programs. With more than 30 campuses across the country, 18 of which are on military installations, students may enroll in day, evening or online classes. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Columbia College educates more than 31,000 students each year and has more than 80,000 alumni worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.ccis.edu.


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