Maria Adamuti-Trache (University of British Columbia – CANADA)


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Maria Adamuti-Trache (University of British Columbia – CANADA)

  1. 1. Draft copy only: Do not quote without permission ( Language acquisition among adult immigrants in Canada Maria Adamuti-Trache University of British Columbia, Vancouver, CANADAABSTRACTGaining proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages is perhaps the most important task ofimmigrants during their first years in the new country. In this paper, I put forward the idea thatability to communicate in one of Canada’s official languages is not only a condition for fullsocial and economic integration of immigrants, but it also facilitates immigrant understanding ofculture and customs, and finally contributes to shaping a sense of belonging to the host country.First, this study demonstrates the variability in pre-migration language capital among recentadult immigrants to Canada and the increase in language capital within four years of arrival.Second, it examines various opportunities for language acquisition and it identifies vulnerablegroups such as women, older immigrants and less educated immigrants who have limited accessto such opportunities. Third, the analysis points to the relationship between language capital andimmigrants’ socio-economic integration. The study emphasizes the centrality of practice (i.e.,formal and informal education and training, labour market participation, social networking) tolanguage acquisition and immigrant integration within the host society.BACKGROUNDLanguage proficiency is acknowledged as one of the most important factors contributing to thesuccessful economic integration of migrant populations; more generally, it is a critical ingredientunderlying social integration and civic participation. In Canada, only the Federal Skilled Workerapplications are evaluated through an immigration point system that includes some procedures todetermine language proficiency in English or French (i.e., up to 24 of the total of 100 points areawarded for language proficiency in one or both of English and French). However, the Canadianimmigration policy did not make the official language competence compulsory and a skilledimmigrant could qualify without meeting this criterion. The efficacy of immigrant selection andsettlement policies has been highly contested. Since April 2010, amendments to the Canadianimmigration policy require that language proficiency is no more self-reported by applicants, butproofs of English and French language ability will be provided at the time of application. Thechange applies to the Federal Skilled Worker and Canadian Experience immigration classes,which actually constitute the main source of skilled immigrants to Canada. The current study isbased on the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada that covers the period 2000-2005when proof of language skills was not required. Brief literature review. Language skills are a form of human capital: “they are embodied inthe person; they are productive in the labor market and/or in consumption; and they are created ata sacrifice of time and out-of-pocket resources” (Chiswick & Miller, 1995, p.248). In an era ofincreasing global migration, foreign language competencies are essential skills that immigrantworkers and their families need in order to build successful lives in the destination countries. 1
  2. 2. Fluency in the host country language is a function of three fundamental variables: exposure tothe language (e.g., “linguistic distance”, school instruction in the destination language, durationin the host country, intensity of exposure), efficiency in language acquisition (i.e., depends onfactors like age at immigration, linguistic distance and level of education) and expected returnsto language investment economic incentives from language fluency (e.g., higher wages).Standard human capital models would suggest that acquisition of host country language capitalrequires time and investment (Dustman, 1999); and one’s decision to invest depends on potentialfuture benefits, on the cost of skill acquisition, and on the individual’s efficiency acquiringlanguage capital which in turn depends on the stock of human capital gained in the past (e.g.,level of education, pre-migration language skills).Neither the immigrant nor the host society can control all the above factors (e.g., linguisticdistance). However, both parts should strive to create ways to improve language fluency throughpractice in the destination language, which would ‘naturally’ occur through participation in thelabour market, bridging to the host society, pursuing education and training. From Bourdieu’ssociological perspective (1990), the accumulation and conversion of forms of capital is onlypossible through practice in a social field – in this case, both acquisition or enhancement of hostcountry language capital and its subsequent conversion into human capital are conditional uponimmigrant active engagement with host country institutions.Recent immigrants to Canada have to overcome language, cultural and social barriers whenentering new workplaces and communities. For instance, data from the Longitudinal Survey ofImmigrants to Canada (LSIC) administered in 2000-2001 show that a majority (82%) of newimmigrants reported they were able to speak one of the two official languages (Statistics Canada,2005). Language skills were more likely to be reported among the working-age immigrants (25-44 years old) with university education (92%). With respect to language skills acquisition,almost all immigrants (95%) thought it was important or very important to improve theirlanguage skills. Within 6 months of arrival 67% of immigrants had plans to improve theirEnglish and many enrolled in training. Among the most common methods of learning English(all provinces except Quebec) were language classes or training (60%), media (39%) and self-learning (30%), as well as through interactions with family and friends, or at school and work. Inaddition, there is a clear trend toward pursuing Canadian post-secondary credentials which offersan indirect way to improve host country language skills. LSIC data show that 89% of recentimmigrants acknowledged the worth of taking further education; about two-thirds of them hadeducational plans at arrival, and 40% of immigrants were interested in university studies(Statistics Canada, 2005). Obtaining further education after arrival in Canada is a strategyembraced in particular by immigrants who have completed university education in their countriesof origin (Adamuti-Trache, 2011; Adamuti-Trache & Sweet, 2010; Green & Green, 1999).Anisef, Sweet and Adamuti-Trache (2009) also found that high self-perception of languageproficiency in one of the two official languages is associated with immigrants’ engagement inpost-secondary education after arrival to Canada and impacts significantly on the employmentoutcomes of recent immigrants.There is evidence that inadequacy of language skills leads to the unsuccessful economicintegration and also controls the type of social interaction and civic participation of immigrants.As Lancee (2008) demonstrates, there is a significant relationship between language proficiencyand structural bridging social capital which consists in the collection of ties established amongpeople (i.e., host society) that are embedded in institutions where more likely resources can be 2
  3. 3. exchanged. As a result, bridging networks are likely to affect employment and income. Bondingsocial capital that emphasizes ties within family and ethnic community may not lead to directeconomic outcomes but helps the growth of bridging capital. Boyd (2009) employs data from the2002 Canadian Ethnic Diversity Survey to examine whether lack of language proficiency affectsmembership in a variety of organizations as well as immigrants’ feeling of belonging. Whileparticipation in non-ethnic associations is indeed lower for immigrants who are less proficient inthe host language (i.e., both mother tongue and language used mostly at home other thanEnglish/French), these immigrants are active in ethnic or immigrant associations, and do nothave negative feeling about belonging to Canada. Purpose. The study extends the existing research literature in several ways. First, I willexamine the role of self-reported language ability in the immigrant settlement process – touchingon social, economic and emotional domains of individual adaptation. Second, the strategiesemployed by immigrants to improve their language competence in English or French willprovide information to better understand funded language training programs and how these areaugmented by the initiatives and personal situations of individual immigrants who pursuelanguage in various settings. The study has the following key research objectives: • To examine differences in language ability (e.g., speaking skills) at arrival by various individual and immigrant-specific factors (e.g., gender, age, pre-migration level of education, immigration class, country of origin). • To examine immigrants’ engagement in various forms of formal and informal language training or other forms of practice (e.g., formal post-secondary education) that contribute to the development of language capital within 4 years of arrival. • To assess changes in language capital (i.e., self-reported language proficiency) over four years of arrival while controlling for individual factors. • To examine the effect of language proficiency on immigrants’ participation in society (e.g., employment, social network) and sense of belonging after 4 years in Canada. Data. The analysis is based on data from the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada(LSIC) following a representative sample of new immigrants and refugees who landed betweenOctober 2000 and September 2001. The surveys were conducted 6 months, 2 years and 4 yearsafter their arrival. The study includes only respondents who had never lived in Canada beforeapplying for immigration and were 20 to 59 years old at arrival. The age selection ensures thatyouth 19 years old or less who are still eligible to enroll in high school as regular students wereexcluded; I also excluded the older immigrants who were roughly out of the working agepopulation by 2005, the time of the last LSIC interview, and possibly had fewer incentives forlanguage training. A total of 6090 immigrants were selected which represents about 87% ofrespondents who participated in all 3 interviews. The study follows Statistics Canadarecommendations for the analysis and presentation of LSIC data. Analysis is conducted withnormalized weights obtained from LSIC survey weights. Variables. The outcome variable is the self-reported speaking proficiency in one of Canada’sofficial languages – it is based on the English scores for all provinces except Quebec, and thebest of the English or French scores for Quebec respondents (Adamuti-Trache, 2011). For eachwave, a four-category variable indicates whether the immigrant reported: could not speak (0),spoke the language poorly (1), spoke fairly well (2), spoke well (3), spoke very well or 3
  4. 4. English/French was his/her mother tongue (4). Although immigrants whose mother tongue wasone of Canada/s official languages did not have to answer the question, they were assigned to thehighest level (Grondin, 2007). Language speaking proficiency in wave 1 (i.e., low/high byaggregating first two and last two groups) is also used as an explanatory variable of differentlanguage acquisition patterns. The analysis includes individual variables such as gender, age(i.e., 6 groups) and highest educational attained (i.e., high school or below, college/trades,university), immigrant-specific factors (Adamuti-Trache & Sweet, 2010) such as region of lastpermanent residence and immigration class (i.e., economic-principal applicants, economic-spouse/dependants, family immigrants, refugees). The ‘source country’ variable carries a culturaldimension (Reitz, 2007); it also informs on the ‘linguistic distance’ between the country of originand the host country. The immigration class contains information on immigrant human capitalbecause most economic immigrants have been assessed under the point system.An important set of variables describes the steps taken by immigrants to improve their languageskills. The information is cumulated over all waves and variables describe whether immigrantstook language classes, learned from family/friends or at work, improved through self-study ormedia. While language training represents non-formal learning, all other forms of languageacquisition are typical informal learning ways in which learners engage purposefully. It is alsoexpected that language skills improve through practice in educational institutions even if thelearner engages in such activities to pursue a post-secondary credential. The analysis will bebased on variables to describe involvement with any of these activities within four years ofarrival. Finally, improved language skills are expected to lead to immigrants’ better economicintegration (i.e., employment status), the formation of host country social capital (i.e., diversefriends network outside ethnic community) and a growing feeling of belonging to the destinationcountry. These outcomes will be discussed based on the Wave 3 data (4 years of arrival). Outline. This is an empirical exploratory analysis that consists in four parts. First, descriptivestatistics will contrast language ability profiles in Wave 1 by social structural factors and priorlevel of education, as well as immigrant specific factors. Second, I will provide data to compareimmigrant engagement with various modes of language acquisition during the first four years inCanada by social structural factors, prior level of education and language skills at arrival. Third, Iwill make use of the longitudinal design of LSIC and conduct a multivariate analysis of languageproficiency growth by examining the effect of social structural factors (gender and age), priorlevel of education and language skills at arrival (Wave 1). Finally, I will briefly examine howlanguage ability in Wave 3 relates to employment status, social capital and feeling of belonging.FINDINGS1. Language capital. Wave 1 data allow to assess immigrants’ language capital close to arrival.Percentage of immigrants across four levels of proficiency in one of Canada’s official languagesare shown in detail (i.e., cannot speak and speaks poor are aggregated to avoid small sample sizefor some groups); the contrast will be mostly made between poor speakers (i.e., low languageskills) and good speakers (i.e., high language skills). Table 1 shows that about two thirds of adultimmigrants speak well or very well one of Canada official languages. Gender differences inlanguage capital indicate that men self-report higher proficiency: 71% of men as compared to55% of women are good speakers. Almost one quarter of women cannot speak or have a poorcommand of the language. Age at arrival is associated with language capital. Except the age 4
  5. 5. group 20 to 24 that is about half distributed across the low and high skill levels, there is a quiteclear increase in the proportion of immigrants with low language skills by age. About two thirdsof the immigrants 50 years old and above reported having poor mastery of one of Canada officiallanguages. As expected language proficiency is increased with level of education. While onlyone-third of the immigrants with high school education or less reported good language skills, thisproportion is 59% and 73% among those with college and university experience, respectively.Table 1. Distribution of immigrants by speaking language abilities in Wave 1 (row %) Low skill level High skill level N Cannot speak Fairly well Well Very well & a & Poor Mother tongue ALL 6090 17 19 26 38Gender Male 3000 11 18 29 42 Female 3090 23 21 22 33Age 20-24 570 20 26 24 30 25-29 1170 12 19 28 41 30-34 1610 11 20 30 40 35-39 1130 15 21 28 37 40-44 750 20 18 22 40 45-49 460 22 17 19 41 50-59 410 50 14 11 25Pre-migration education High school or below 1150 45 23 14 18 College 1010 20 22 20 39 University 3960 9 18 30 43Region of last permanent residence US/UK/NZ/AUS 320 4 7 14 76 WSN Europe 390 15 14 23 48 E Europe 460 10 26 39 25 Central/South America 340 14 16 17 53 Middle East 600 16 21 23 41 E/SE Asia 2000 20 25 34 21 South Asia 1450 24 17 21 38 Africa 520 6 10 14 70Immigration class Economic- Principal applicant 2450 4 14 32 50 Economic- Spouse/Dependant 1770 20 24 23 33 Family 1460 31 20 19 30 Refugee 410 36 30 20 14a The 2 categories are aggregated because some groups have small sample size.Region/country of last permanent residence is associated with immigrant language capital atarrival. Obviously, those coming from Anglophone countries or from African countries that haveeither British or French heritages, have high proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages(i.e., up to 90% and 84%, respectively). Good language skills are also noticeable fromimmigrants from Western/South/Northern Europe and Central/South America who may have hadaccess to training or more contacts with the North American culture. Eastern Europeans show the 5
  6. 6. most centered distribution: many immigrants had exposure to one of Canada’s official languages,but a relatively low proportion report very good language skills. While language skills are quitepolarized among immigrants from South Asia (e.g., 38% have very food skills, but also 24%cannot speak or speak the language poorly), immigrants for East and South East Asia show thehighest percentage of low skill level (a total of 45%) and the lowest percentage of immigrantswho speak the language very well (21%). Finally, there is a clear relation between languageskills at arrival and immigration class. Over 80% of the economic immigrants principalapplicants report high language proficiency as compared to about half of the spouse anddependant economic immigrants or family immigrants, and about two-third of the refugees. Thisis not surprising since selection criteria for skilled workers include a language proficiencycomponent. Most of these individuals will likely carry the burden of social and economicintegration for their families. However, other immigrant groups are vulnerable in terms of pre-migration language capital. Women, older immigrants, those with lower levels of education,immigrants from Asia, family immigrants and refugees will likely need significant support toacquire language skills.2. Steps taken to acquire language proficiency. Typical ways to improve language skills arelanguage classes, self-study, media, family/friend interactions, work interactions, as well asparticipation in formal education (e.g., post-secondary education). Although questions aboutlanguage practices were asked in each wave, this analysis is based on overall responses across allwaves. For instance, participation in language training classes means that the immigrant reportedtaking language classes at least once within 4 years of arrival. Table 2 contrasts the percentagesof immigrants who engaged in these language practices by demographic factors and prior levelof education, as well as language proficiency at arrival. In general, immigrants with lower skilllevel at arrival are more likely to engage in various forms of language acquisition, except forpursuing post-secondary education which is controlled by admission requirements, so mostlygood speakers can access this opportunity. Media seems to be a popular way to acquire languageskills among a majority of immigrants. Table 2: Percentages of immigrants who took specific steps toward improving language a skills by individual factors and Wave 1 language skill level Language classes Self-Study Media b bW1 Language skill level Low High Low High Low High ALL 70 36 45 37 77 60Gender Male 64 33 46 38 77 60 Female 74 41 44 37 78 60Age 20-24 70 46 39 35 81 58 25-29 74 40 48 39 82 62 30-34 76 39 51 42 82 64 35-39 79 36 56 38 83 62 40-44 77 32 53 33 82 52 45-49 58 25 29 29 68 53 50-59 41 16 23 22 51 48Pre-migration education High school or below 59 33 29 28 66 52 College 75 29 55 28 83 52 University 76 38 54 40 83 63 6
  7. 7. (Table 2, con’t) Family/Friends At Work PSEW1 Language skill level Low High Low Low High Low ALL 47 36 46 47 36 46Gender Male 42 33 60 42 33 60 Female 50 39 38 50 39 38Age 20-24 55 40 55 55 40 55 25-29 52 35 55 52 35 55 30-34 47 36 46 47 36 46 35-39 45 40 49 45 40 49 40-44 43 31 49 43 31 49 45-49 44 33 38 44 33 38 50-59 42 31 26 42 31 26Pre-migration education High school or below 50 38 39 50 38 39 College 53 35 51 53 35 51 University 42 36 51 42 36 51a Percentages are calculated as the ratio between the number of immigrants answering Yes andthe total number of immigrants in each group.b Low= Cannot speak & Poor & Fairly well; High= Well & Very well & Mother tongue. Language classes. Formal language training is considered by 70% of the poor speakers ascompared to 36% of the good speakers. Gender and age differences are significant: women andyoung immigrants are more likely to take language classes. Participation in language training byprior level of education reveals that exactly the groups that need training the most (i.e., thosewith high school or below) are less likely to consider this step. Apparently, older immigrants andthose with lower level of education who were identified as having insufficient language capital atarrival are not sufficiently engaged with language training within four years of arrival. Self-study. This is an important form of informal language training that seems to be consideredby 45% of the poor speakers and 37% of the good speakers. Gender differences are notnoticeable, but interesting patterns are visible by age and education level. For instance, amongthe poor speakers, active self-learners are the working age immigrants (25 to 44) and those withprior post-secondary education. To note that self-study is identified as a step to languageimprovement only by 29% and 22-23% of the immigrants aged 45-49 and 50-59, respectively. Media. This is the most popular informal learning tool recognized by 77% of the poor speakersand 60% of the good speakers. However, it is acknowledged only by half of the immigrants aged50 to 59. The younger and the more educated immigrants, regardless of language skill level atarrival, are likely to benefit from this informal leaning tool. Family/friends. Overall, poor speakers seem to rely more on family/friends interaction to learnthe language as compared to good speakers (47% vs. 36%). This is particularly true for womenregardless of language skill level at arrival. It is also true for immigrants with lower levels ofeducation, especially poor speakers. The younger immigrants also feel they learn from theinteractions with family and friends more than the older immigrants, who might have a friendsnetwork that is less ethnically diverse. 7
  8. 8. Work. Acquiring language skills at work certainly depends on whether the immigrant isemployed and whether English or French are the languages used in the workplace. Overall, about45-46% of immigrants believe that the work environment helped them improve their proficiencyand there are no differences by language skill level at arrival. However, gender, age and level ofeducation differences are significant, especially among poor speaker immigrants. While 60% ofmen who are poor speakers believe they improved their language skills at work, this is reportedby only 38% of women in the same language skill group. Similarly, 55% of the 20 to 29 yearsold immigrants as compared to 26% of the 50 to 59 years old immigrants, and 39% of those withhigh school education or below as compared to 51% of those with post-secondary education,recognize that language improvements occurred at work. These patterns are clearly controlled byemployment patterns as well as type of jobs held by immigrants (e.g., manual jobs may notrequire good language skills and offer few opportunities for improvement). PSE participation. Although formal education aiming to degree completion is not a direct stepto language improvement, it may engage the learner in language practice more than any otheractivity. There is no surprise that only 24% of the poor speakers as compared to 45% of the goodspeakers engage in PSE because participation is not only a matter of choice but also of meetingadmission requirements. It is still remarkable that one quarter of the adult immigrants who do nothave remarkable language skills at arrival succeed to pursue PSE within four years. Women andolder immigrants, especially those with low language skills, are less likely to engage in PSE.However, PSE participation rates are quite high among university-educated immigrants,regardless of language proficiency.3. Change in language proficiency. Time since arrival in the host country (i.e., duration ofexposure) and steps taken to improve language skills or participation in education, work andsocial networking (i.e., intensity of exposure) allow immigrants to become gradually morecomfortable with the host country language. Improvement of spoken language skills is visible inFigure 1 showing the average scores at each interview time for immigrants with low and highskill level at arrival. Fig.1: Mean language scores by W1 skill level 4 High 3 Low 2 1 0 Wave1 Wave2 Wave3Poor speakers become over time more confident regarding their language abilities while goodspeakers become more exigent. For the poor speakers, the major change occurs within 2 years ofarrival when they reach on average level 2 (speaking fairly well). No significant changes areobserved for the good speakers. Figure 1 shows that change in language proficiency occursduring Wave 2, and next skills remain quite steady. 8
  9. 9. A one-way repeated measures ANOVA was conducted to compare the effect of gender, age atarrival, prior level of education and language skill group at arrival on self-reported languageability in Wave 1, Wave 2 and Wave 3. All tests of between-subjects effects (i.e., gender, age,prior level of education, language proficiency at arrival) are statistically significant (p<0.001).The tests of within-subject effects show statistically significant changes in language proficiencyover time (p<0.001). Significant interaction terms indicate that the changing patterns in languageproficiency are affected by gender, age, prior level of education and language skills at arrival(the latter effect is portrayed in Figure 1). The interaction effects between language skills atarrival and one of the individual variables are shown in Figures 2-4. Fig.2: Mean language scores by W1 skill level and gender 4 High_Male 3 High_Female Low_Male 2 Low_Female 1 0 Wave1 Wave2 Wave3 Fig.3: Mean language scores by W1 skill level and age 4 High 20-24 25-29 30-34 3 35-39 40-44 45-49 2 50-59 Low 20-24 25-29 30-34 1 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-59 0 Wave1 Wave2 Wave3 Fig.4: Mean language scores by W1 skill level and prior level of education 4 High_University High_College 3 High_HS/Below Low_University 2 Low_College Low_HS/Below 1 0 Wave1 Wave2 Wave3 9
  10. 10. More specifically, Figure 2 confirms no significant gender although male immigrants improveslightly more their skills (i.e., the slope of change between Wave 1 and Wave 2 is greater formen). Figure 3 describes the effect of age on language proficiency growth. For the high skilllevel, the most pronounced drop is noticeable for the 45 to 49 years old. For the low skill group,the slope of change is greater for all age groups except immigrants aged 45 to 49 and 50 to 59.The older group also experiences a slight drop in perception of language speaking skills in Wave3. Finally, Figure 4 shows the effect of prior level of education on language proficiency growth.While there is little variability in the change patterns for the good speakers, there is a clear effectof prior level of education on the slope lines with university-educated immigrants experiencingthe greatest language proficiency growth in Wave 2.4. Language and immigrant integration. Acquisition of language capital is expected to affectthe economic, social and cultural integration of immigrants. Data show that the percentage ofadult immigrants who report speaking well and very well one of Canada official languages growsfrom 64% in Wave 1 to 75% in Wave 3; the percentage not speaking the host country languagedropped from 17% top 10%. Table 4 presents evidence that language proficiency in Wave 3 isassociated with indicators of immigrants’ integration and their sense of belonging to Canada.Table 3. Integration outcomes and speaking language abilities in Wave 3 (row %) N Cannot speak Fairly well Well Very well & & Poor Mother tongue ALL 6090 10 15 28 47Employment status (W3) Employed 4380 7 14 28 51 Unemployed Searching jobs 770 15 15 31 38 Unemployed-No job search 950 19 19 24 39Pre-migration work experience accepted Had not worked before 980 24 21 26 29 Never tried or looked for job 1310 15 20 31 34 Have tried, did not succeed 1850 6 16 29 50 Work experience accepted 1950 3 9 27 61Friends network (ethnicity) W3 No new friends 800 19 15 24 42 All/Most ethnic friends 2900 13 20 32 35 About half ethnic friends 810 2 12 29 56 Few/None ethnic friends 1580 2 8 24 67Membership in organizations (W3) No 4290 12 16 29 44 Yes, ethnic/religious/cultural 570 7 14 29 50 Yes, not ethnic/religious/cultural 1240 3 8 26 63Sense of belonging to Canada (W3) 1 Not strong at all 90 11 22 22 44 2 210 10 14 33 43 3 1040 12 16 30 42 4 2280 9 18 29 44 5 Very strong 2410 10 12 26 52 10
  11. 11. First, about 72% of the adult immigrants were employed in Wave 3. Among them, 79% reportedspeaking an official language well and very well at the time of the interview. The least proficientare immigrants who are unemployed and not looking for a job, although 30% of the unemployedsearching for jobs have low language skill level and likely few employment chances. One issuemuch discussed in the literature is related to barriers experienced by immigrants to have theirprior work experience recognized (see e.g., Anisef, Sweet & Adamuti-Trache, 2010). The currentanalysis shows that about 37% of adult immigrants never worked prior to migration or never hada chance to either work in Canada or to negotiate their work experience within 4 years of arrival.Among these immigrants, there are noticeably high percentages with low language skills. On thecontrary, those who interacted with the employers and negotiated their work experience,successfully or not, are much more proficient. In particular, 88% of the adult immigrants whosework experience was accepted in Canada have good mastery of one official language.Building social capital in the host country is facilitated by ability to communicate outside ownethnic group. As shown in table 4, there is a tendency among adult immigrants to maintainfriendships within their ethnic group (i.e., over 60% of immigrants did not make friends or haveall or most ethnic friends). One third of these immigrants who rely on bonding friendshipnetworks are poor speakers after 4 years in Canada. On the contrary, about one quarter of allimmigrants have few or no ethnic friends. Only 10% of these immigrants who rely on bridgingfriendship networks are poor speakers. The data clearly show that type of friends network isassociated with language proficiency. Membership in organizations is relatively low for adultimmigrants: 20% participate in non-ethnic organizations, 9% in ethnic groups and over 70%have no organization affiliation in Wave 3. The low participation could be associated with theeconomic difficulties experienced by adult immigrants that delay their involvement withactivities outside the economic realm. However, there is a clear relation between membership inorganization, particularly non-ethnic, and language proficiency which suggests that languageskills may affect immigrant social integration.Finally, sense of belonging to Canada is likely to be enhanced when immigrants are capable toadopt and share cultural values, and this attitude is favoured by an active knowledge of language.Table 4 shows that in general, adult immigrants have a high sense of belonging to Canada (meanscore is about 4.1 on a 1-5 scale). Data show that sense of belonging to Canada and languageskills are related but not in a linear manner. For instance, one can notice the lowest percentage ofimmigrants with high language skills (67%) among those whose feeling of belonging is notstrong at all. The proportion of good speakers is increased among those who feel more attached,reaching 78% of those who have very strong sense of belonging. However, 76% of those whoscore 2 out of 5 (quite low attachment) are good speakers too.DISCUSSIONThis paper is grounded in Chiswick and Miller’s (1995) argument that acquisition of languagecapital is affected by various pre-migration and post-migration factors. The LSIC data show thatadult immigrants to Canada have a quite significant stock of host country language capital,although there are noticeable differences by gender, age, education, country of origin andimmigration class. Significant associations between these factors and language proficiency atarrival show that adult immigrants do not form a homogeneous group. In short, by acquiringproficiency in one of Canada’s official languages, newcomers gradually understand the norms of 11
  12. 12. the host society, become culturally, socially and economically integrated as citizens, and likelygrow a sense of belonging to Canada. The broad purpose of this paper is to examine the processof language capital acquisition, steps taken by immigrants to improve their language skills, andwhether or not language skills impact on the socio-economic integration and sense of belongingof adult immigrants within four years of arrival to Canada.The second perspective of this paper is that language capital, like any other form of humancapital, can be acquired only through social practice. The study brings evidence that in terms offormal and informal language training, or participation in formal post-secondary education thatshould also have some language acquisition effects, adult immigrants are not equal. The mostdisadvantaged social groups in terms of initial language capital like older or less educatedimmigrants are also less likely to access formal education and training opportunities, or unable tomake use of other informal learning tools (e.g., self-study, media). As a result, many cannotaccess labour market opportunities which in turn limit their chances to practice the language andgain new skills.There is clear evidence that adult immigrants improve their language skills over time. The gain isobvious for immigrants with initial low stock of language capital; and a slight drop in self-reported skills is evident for those with high language proficiency at arrival. In addition,acquisition of language skills is visible during the first two years in Canada, reaching a plateauover the next two years for most immigrant groups. This should be of concern, considering thatthe skill level attained by the least language proficient immigrants it still low (only speaking‘fairly well’).The ability to communicate allows for full social and economic integration of adult immigrants;through understanding of culture and customs, a gradual integration contributes to shaping asense of belonging to the host country. The paper emphasizes the centrality of practice (i.e.,formal and informal education and training, labour market participation, networking) to languageacquisition and immigrant integration in the host society. It also points to vulnerable immigrantgroups who have limited access to opportunities such as women, older immigrants and lesseducated immigrants. 12
  13. 13. REFERENCESAdamuti-Trache, M. (2011). First four years in Canada: Post-secondary education pathways ofhighly-educated immigrants. Accepted in Journal of International Migration and Integration.Adamuti-Trache, M. & Sweet, R. (2010). Adult immigrants’ participation in Canadian educationand training. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 22(2), 1-26.Anisef, P., Sweet, R. & Adamuti-Trache, M. (2009). Impact of Canadian PSE on recentimmigrants’ labour market outcomes. Ottawa: Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Availableat:, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.Boyd, M. (2009). Official language proficiency and the civic participation of immigrants. Paperpresented at Metropolis Language Matters Symposium, Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved July 15 2010, B. R. & P. W. Miller (1995). The endogeneity between language and earnings:International analyses. Journal of Labor Economics, 13(2), 246–288.Dustmann, C. (1999). Temporary migration, human capital, and language fluency of migrants.Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 101, 297–314.Green, A. G., & Green, D. A. (1999). The economic goals of Canada’s immigration policy,Canadian Public Policy, 25(4), 425-451.Grondin, C. (2007). Knowledge of official languages among new immigrants: How important isit in the labour market? Catalogue no. 89-624-XIE. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.Lancee, B. (2008). The economic returns of immigrants’ bonding and bridging social capital:The case of the Netherlands. International Migration Review, 44(1), 202-226.Reitz, J. G. (2007). Immigrant employment success in Canada, Part I: Individual and contextualcauses. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 8, 11-36.Statistics Canada (2005). Longitudinal survey of immigrants to Canada: A portrait of earlysettlement experiences. Catalogue no. 89-614-XIE, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Minister ofIndustry. 13