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CD 11: Q&A With Dr. Julia B. Carroll

Dr. Julia B. Carroll, deputy chairwoman of the Basic Educational Skills program at Queensborough Community College in Queens, talks with us about language issues and the challenges Korean and Chinese immigrants face at Bayside, where there is a large Asian population.

What are the challenges of learning English as a second language?

I think that some of the challenges are that students are living in communities where they are only speaking their own language most of the time. They are hanging with their friends and speaking their native language, or even working at a job where they are speaking their native language, and they have this feeling that somehow when they come to class, their language issues are going to go away miraculously. We find that happens a lot.

They are also living in a generation where everything is instantaneous and they want to learn the language faster and faster. But at the same time, their actual exposure to English is limited.

As an educator, how do you address that?

Well I give them a lot of reading and writing and work outside the class because I think they are just not getting enough exposure to the language. I tell them to get a job where you can speak English at least 65 percent of time, and watch television in English and listen to music in English and try to speak English to your friends.

What immigrant populations do you teach?

We have a little of everything here. There is a large population of Asian students, Koreans and Chinese, and we have quite a few South Americans too. Probably because we are in Bayside, which is pretty much a Chinese and Korean area so there are a lot of Asians here.

What do you think it is about Bayside that attracts Chinese and Korean immigrants to the area?

There is already a well-established community here. They got the stores, the restaurants, the businesses and lots of people have been living here for a long time. So when you have relatives that are already here, and people speak your native language around you, that’s very appealing.

Do you find that Chinese and Korean immigrants come to this country knowing more or less English than other immigrant groups? Or is it about the same?

It depends on the other immigrant groups. For example, you’ve got Haitian immigrants from Haiti where there’s a broken system with a huge literacy problem, and then you have Russian students who are very well read and their language is much closer to English than Chinese or Korean is, so they have fewer problems.

I think Chinese and Korean immigrants are very serious students and they study very hard. The language issues they have have to do with the grammar and the structure of the language. It’s very, very different than English and it takes them longer to master.

Do you notice a pattern among Chinese and Korean immigrant students in terms of the time it takes to learn English?

I think it depends. You take students from Hong Kong where they have had a lot more exposure to English than students from Central China. I hate to stereotype. I think they have very good study habits and they are coming from backgrounds and families that support them and encourage them to study.

But I think if they memorize information their whole lives, when they come here it’s a big shock because a lot of the assignments don’t involve just memorization. It’s actively using the language to interact and participate in class discussions. I think that’s a challenge for a lot of students.