Political & Social Issues in Second Language Learning

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  • 0:04 Second Language Learning
  • 1:01 Political & Societal…
  • 2:33 School Structure
  • 2:58 Educational Policy
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Learning a second language by itself is a big challenge for students; additional social and political issues can have an additional impact on students. This lesson explores those issues.

Second Language Learning

Aysha is a student from the Middle East who recently enrolled in a middle school in the United States. Since Aysha is a Muslim, she uses a head scarf, which often attracts attention from curious classmates and faculty members. Aysha understands that some people do not understand her use of the head scarf, which often makes her feel out of place and affects her desire to learn English. Sometimes, Aysha wishes she were back home, where all of her classmates and teachers were just like her and spoke Arabic.

While a student's individual willingness to learn a new language counts for a lot, there are social and political factors that affect second language learning, like political and societal attitudes, social relationships, school structures, and educational policies. Political and social factors can either have a positive or negative impact on second language learning. The effect depends not only on the type of factor but also on the learner's perceptions about it. Let's look at some practical examples.

Political & Societal Attitudes

When we talk about second language learners, we're typically talking about non-native residents who join a community in another country. Let's take Aysha. She lives in a city where the vast majority of natives and non-natives are Hispanic. As Aysha and her family are from the Middle East, they stand out. Unfortunately, most people in Aysha's new city are unfamiliar with Middle Eastern cultures. As such, some of them may even relate the cultures to stereotypical political attitudes about terrorism. Aysha is sensitive enough to perceive a quiet attitude of rejection toward her and her family when they enter a restaurant, a supermarket, or a store. Political and societal attitudes can have a negative influence on second language learning because the language the student needs to learn is part of the society where a student may not feel welcome.

When second language learners and their families are able to establish social relationships in their community, this can have a positive impact on the language acquisition progress. If such a social life involves people who speak the second language the student is trying to learn, there is an incentive to make progress. Additionally, a social life brings a feeling of comfort to a person from another country. Both aspects motivate the second language learner because, through social life, the learner acquires a status in society. For instance, Aysha's family begins to make some good friends in their neighborhood, and this makes Aysha realize that there are many open-minded people in the community. She feels comfortable around their new friends and realizes English is the tool she needs to communicate with them.

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