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Systematic review

Language teaching for adult immigrants with little or no schooling: a systematic review of effect studies

There is a lack of summarised evidence of which language teaching methods are most effective for adult immigrants with little or no schooling. The Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity have therefore commissioned a systematic review of international research to answer this question.

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  • Year: 2018
  • By: Norwegian Institute of Public Health
  • Authors Flodgren GM, Nøkleby H, Meneses J.
  • ISBN (digital): 978-82-8082-962-7

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Key message

For many adult immigrants, it is a big challenge to learn a new language, and it is particularly difficult for those with little or no schooling. There is however a lack of summarised evidence of which language teaching methods are most effective for this group of immigrants. The Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity have therefore commissioned a systematic review of international research to answer this question.

  • We searched for controlled studies that evaluated language teaching methods targeting immigrants with little or no schooling and found two studies: one from USA, and one from Israel.
  • One of the studies showed that a systematic, sequential and multisensory reading intervention (duration median 79 hours) may lead to little or no  difference in English language proficiency, when delivered to a mixed group of immigrants (N=502), as compared to standard instruction (low certainty evidence).
  • The results of the other study show that it is uncertain if language instruction based on the the Communicative-Multicultural-Neuropsychological model (duration median 179 hours), delivered to Ethiopian immigrants (N=124), have a greater effect on Hebrew language proficiency, than standard instruction (very low certainty of evidence).

The evidence-base for effective language instruction targeting adult immigrants with limited or no schooling is scarce. Based on the studies that were excluded from this review, because they lacked an adequate effect evaluation, methods involving mother-tongue support, cultural adaptation and so-called 'participatory pedagogy' may be worth further evaluation.

Summary

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Background

For immigrants, mastery of the language of the host country (both oral and written), is of great importance for securing a job, facilitating cultural exchange, and personal development. However, for many adult immigrants it is a great challenge to learn a new language, and this is especially true for immigrants with little or no schooling who are unable to read or write in their mother tongue. For language teachers it is also very challenging to teach this group of immigrants.

Objective

The aim of this project was to summarise the knowledge base for the effect of different language teaching methods for adult immigrants with little or no schooling. We intend to find out which methods or strategies are effective, i.e. which methods provide a good degree of language proficiency in terms of the goals for the current education.

Method

We have used the methods described in our handbook when preparing this systematic review. In May 2017, we searched, without language restrictions or time limits, for relevant original studies (and systematic reviews) in electronic databases, e.g. ERIC, ISI Web of Science, Scopus, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological abstracts, and Social Care Online. Two authors screened, independently of each other, all titles and abstracts from the search. We retrieved and read potentially relevant studies in full-text, and assessed them against the inclusion criteria below.

 

Population

 

Adult immigrants with little or no schooling (Level 0=less than primary school eduction1); who are 16years old or older2

Intervention

 

Language teaching strategi or method(s)3, (i.e. one or more methods combined) tailored to the population, and delivered in classroom or on another arena4

Control

Standard language teaching methods, or other teaching methods or strategies

Outcomes

 

Primary outcomes: Language proficiency (level of and related to the aims of the teaching). Only studies reporting the primary outcome were eligible for inclusion.

Secondary outcomes: Continued to higher education, secured a job

Design

 

 

Language

Systematic reviews (SRs), randomised controlled trials (RCT), non-randomised controlled studies (NRCT), controlled before- after studies (CBA), interrupted time series studies (ITS), cohort studies

All relevant studies were eligible, but we found only studies in English.

1 With 'little schooling' we mean Level 0 or. «Less than primary school education» according to the ISCED classification [1] 2.We have defined 'adults' as people over the age of 16, as it is from this age immigrants and refugees who come under the introductory act are entitled and obliged to take part in Norwegian education. 3 Methods or strategies used for language training in educational situations, classrooms or other arenas. 4 If the method has explicitly and systematically included the use of other venues than classrooms (e.g. in a work-context, or in other ‘real life’ situations).

One author extracted data and another author checked the data extractions. Two authors, independently of each other, assessed the risk of bias for each of the included studies using the Cochrane EPOC checklist, and graded the certainty of evidence using the GRADE method. Disagreement was resolved through discussion between authors.

Results

We identified two eligible studies evaluating the effect of two different language teaching methods: one RCT from the USA and one CBA study from Israel. Results from one of the studies suggest that a systematic, sequential and multisensory reading intervention [3] may lead to little or no difference in English language proficiency, when delivered to immigrants with little schooling from a number of different countries (N=502), as compared to standard instruction. It is uncertain whether language instruction, based on the Communicative-Multicultural-Neuropsychological model [2], improves Hebrew language proficiency when delivered to Ethiopian immigrants (N=124) with no formal schooling, as compared to standard instruction. The duration of the language instruction in the two studies was (median) 79 hours and 175 hours respectively. The certainty of evidence for the main outcome was low to very low.

Discussion

We found only two controlled studies that met the inclusion criteria. Neither study were from Europe. The language teaching methods, which in both studies focussed on reading skills, were limited to the classroom delivery. They were not combined with any other interventions.

Meta-analysis was not feasible due to differences in populations, interventions, outcomes, etc. between studies. There is a need for more studies evaluating the effect of theory-based language teaching methods tailored to this group of immigrants, preferably performed in a Norwegian or a Scandinavian context. Based on the studies that were excluded because they lacked adequate impact assessment, methods that involve mother tongue support, cultural adaption, and ‘participatory pedagogy’, may possibly be worth further evaluation.

Conclusion

The evidence-base for effective language teaching methods for adult immigrants with little or no schooling is scarce. We cannot draw any firm conclusions about what methods of instruction that best suits this group of immigrants, based on the available evidence.

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