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We were commissioned by the Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi) to conduct a systematic scoping review. The review summarizes studies on teaching strategies for second language training of adult immigrants.
We conducted a comprehensive search and screened about 1100 studies in full-text. We included 66 studies, with about 79,000 participant (77,060 of the participants are from one registry-based study from Sweden). Most of the studies were qualitative, but we included 12 controlled studies. Three quarters of the studies were published in the last decade. The majority of the studies are from Europe, including 21 studies from Scandinavia.
The included studies address many different interventions and methods for second language training of adult immigrants. The key findings across the studies are:
- Technological/digital language training tools are perceived as beneficial.
- Workplace- and service-related language training is considered valuable.
- The use of storytelling, drama and roleplay may make the participants more comfortable using the target language.
- Economic incentives (performance bonuses) does not seem to further participants’ language acquisition.
- Adaptation of language training can enhance the possibilities for language learning and acquisition.
There is a vast number of qualitative studies on language training of adult immigrants. However, there is limited documentation on which methods of language training are effective for immigrants. There is a need for more studies on the effect of interventions and teaching methods for immigrants
Immigrants make up 14.7% of the Norwegian population. I Norway, lessons in Norwegian are considered one of the most important measures for the integration of immigrants. Language training affects education and work prospects, as well as possibilities for integrating in a new country. Municipalities responsible for settling refugees are required to offer courses in Norwegian and in social studies as a part of the introduction program. However, the target group for Norwegian language training is heterogeneous, in regards to a variety of aspects, such as literacy and educational level. Therefore, for the municipalities settling refugees and offering language training, and for the language teachers, it is challenging to identify the most relevant teaching methods and strategies.
The Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi) commissioned the Norwegian Institute of Public Health to conduct a systematic scoping review on teaching strategies for second language training of adult immigrants.
We conducted a systematic scoping review. A scoping review is a literature review of a clearly defined research question that is conducted in a systematic and scientific way to map out and descriptively recount existing research on a specific topic. Between November 2018 and February 2020 we conducted a comprehensive search for studies. We searched for studies in electronic databases and in sources for grey literature. Grey literature is research that has not been published in traditional or formal commercial publication channels. Enforcing no language limitations, we searched for studies from 2000 and later in sources such as: ERIC, ISI WEB of science, Scopus, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological abstracts, Social Care Online, Cristin, Campbell Collaboration library, Epistemonikos, Google Scholar, SpringerLink. Two researchers independently screened all references identified from the databases. Next, we screened relevant references in full-text. One researcher screened all references identified from the grey literature searches. All studies were screened in accordance with the inclusion criteria.
The inclusion criteria were:
P (population): Adult immigrants born abroad, 16 years or older.
I (intervention): Language training (teaching strategy or method) taking place in classroom or on another arena.
C (comparison): We included all types of comparison groups.
O (outcome): Studies of effect: Language skill (degree of and in line with goal of language training in question), uptake of further education, and/or employment. («Effect study» is here understood as studies that have a stated goal to evaluate the effect of language training, and that say something about what factors have an impact on or can be associated with the outcome of the language training). Studies of experience: Immigrants’ experiences of and opinions about language training.
Design: We did not exclude studies based on study design, as long as the goal was to evaluate the effect of language training and it said something about what factors impact on or can be associated with the outcome of language training. Qualitative studies were included if they elucidated the question about effective language training methods.
Language: We included all languages in regards of studies of effect. Regarding studies of experience, we included studies in Scandinavian languages and in English.
Countries: We included studies from setting that are comparable with the Norwegian context, i.e. primarily studies from Europe, but also from OECD countries, such as Israel, Australia, Canada, and USA.
One researcher extracted data from the studies. The researcher sorted and combined the data from each study, summarised data narratively and created tables when relevant. We extracted and presented descriptions of language training interventions and the methods used in language training, in addition to outcomes of and experiences with these. We did not evaluate the studies’ risk of bias.
First, we screened the 12,781 references identified through the searches. Next, we screened about 1100 studies in full-text. 66 studies met the inclusion criteria. The studies were published between 2000 and 2018, and three quarters of the studies were published in the last decade. The majority of the studies were from Europe (60%), including six studies from Norway, ten from Sweden, and five from Denmark. Half (50%) of the included studies were qualitative studies (studies of experiences with language training). We also included controlled studies (18%), mixed-method studies (17%), case studies (9%), a few field studies, one cross-sectional study and one literature review (6%). None of the controlled studies (that examined effect of interventions) examined the same intervention. In total, there were about 79,000 participants in the 66 studies, but 77,060 of the participants came from one Swedish registry-based study.
The included studies encompassed a wide range of interventions and methods for second language teaching and training, and could have been categorised several different ways. After data extraction and judicious assessment of the studies, we found that a grouping into eight topical categories was the most germane. The categories and their key findings were:
- Language training and teaching based on technological tools (16 studies): Many immigrants perceive technological/digital language training tools as beneficial and useful. Such tools seem to offer an opportunity to assume greater responsibility for ones own learning, can enhance vocabulary and boost confidence in communicating in the target language.
- Interventions for immigrants with little or no education/illiterate learners (6 studies): For immigrants with little or no educations, it seems many factors, e.g. cultural background and context of language training, affect their learning experience.
- Language training through work or service (10 studies): Many immigrants consider workplace- and service-related language training as valuable; that it can improve language learning, social ties, and future employment opportunities. It is essential that work- and service-related settings offer opportunities for language training.
- Language programs (15 studies): Whether or not different language programs are perceived as advancing language learning varies across different groups of immigrants. Having suitable teaching materials seems important.
- Various pedagogical approaches and classroom strategies (10 studies): It seems that different pedagogical approaches and classroom strategies can be valuable, but their impact varies across different immigrant groups. It seems beneficial to map and utilise the individual participant’s resources in the language training.
- Various pedagogical approaches and creativity (4 studies): It seems that storytelling and drama or role-play can make the participants more comfortable with speaking the target language, and thereby increase their language skills.
- Various pedagogical approaches and adaptation (4 studies): Adaptations in the language training, e.g. to learners’ needs and capabilities, can further possibilities of learning and language acquisition.
- Economic incentives (1 study): Economic incentives (performance bonuses) does not seem to further participants’ language acquisition.
«Immigrants» and «refugees» are heterogeneous groups and many studies conclude that one type of language training cannot reach all groups. Thus, it appears that adapting and modifying the training to the participants is important, both in regards to their background and their present situation. Several studies highlight the benefits of practicing the target language and allowing ample time for language practice, e.g. conversations in the work place. Further, it seems that relating the language training to everyday life and the local environment is perceived as improving learning. Integration and a sense of belonging can be viewed as both a means and an end with regard to second language training for adult immigrants.
This systematic scoping review shows that there are many studies addressing second language training for adult immigrants, and they span a wide range of topics and methodological approaches. However, there is a limited number of studies examining the effect of different methods of language teaching and training. In order to draw firm conclusions about the most effective methods of second language training for adult immigrants, additional and better research is needed.