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Friday, December 03, 2010

ESL Teacher Blog: Citizenship Test - Can ESL Teachers Play a Role?

There has been a lot of discussion in the media about the recent changes in the Canadian citizenship test. Canada has had a phenomenally high 84% citizenship acquisition compared to other countries. Ever since a newer version of the test was introduced last spring, the failure rates have soared.

The new test is harder to cheat on and allows a smaller percentage of wrong answers, but these aren’t the main problems for the newcomers determined to get their citizenship. The main culprit is the ability to understand and interpret written English or French.

No matter how hard students study for the test, without sufficient vocabulary and ability to understand rephrased information, they’re not going to make it. Candidates who have not reached intermediate+ level of English, are not going to understand ‘merger of colonies’, ‘pursue of freedom’ and ‘constitutional monarchy’. Look at the test through the eyes of your students - isn’t it challenging language-wise for those who are  still struggling with the basics even after 3 or more years in the country?

The government wants the test to be meaningful which it might be for those who are able to function at higher levels of English. But then there are always the ones who will never go beyond basic levels - don’t you know a few? Does that mean they can’t be citizens?

Mandatory citizenship classes (usually taught by ESL instructors) might be the win-win situation in which all parties benefit. A teacher who observes students in class over a period of time can judge and assess their knowledge more objectively than a one-off test with a limited number of questions. In addition to covering the subject-matter (history, geography, economics and political system of a country), students will get a chance to expose themselves to different sources this information comes from teacher presentations, videos, books, student discussions - all of which use various structures to convey the same information. They’ll become more comfortable with the language and have a sound basis in their knowledge of the country.
A certificate upon course completion and/or recommendation letter from a teacher might say more about a candidate than the immigration consultant translating from English to another language (for the ones who failed the test). These classes also help develop attachment to the principles and ideals of the country and identify with the basic values we share as Canadians.
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 11:17 AM
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