This paper examines the kinds of opportunities available in New Zealand to new arrivals to develop English-language proficiency. In particular, it looks at how adult immigrants and refugees from non-English-speaking backgrounds perceive these opportunities and engage with both formal and informal learning sources in different contexts. It also investigates provider perceptions of the needs and difficulties of ESOL learners and of how provision may be improved. The paper is based on two studies carried out as part of the New Settlers Programme in 2000: one conducted among adult learners of English, the other among professionals involved in providing English-language programmes for adult immigrants and refugees. In the light of the findings, a number of social policy implications concerning ESOL-related tuition in education and training institutions and in the workplace, as well as the participation of ethnic groups and the wider community in enhancing the English-language learning opportunities of immigrants and refugees, are identified and discussed.
Since 1991 New Zealand has followed a more open immigration regime designed to increase the country's human capital. Highly skilled immigrants and those capable of contributing entrepreneurial ability and investment, irrespective of their countries of origin, have formed the main target groups. A consequence of shifts in immigration policy has been an increase in the numbers of General Skills or Business category immigrants from regions where English is not the main language, adding to the numbers of people from non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB) who have gained entry to New Zealand through other residence categories (e.g. family reunification, refugee, humanitarian). The more diverse linguistic backgrounds of these immigrants raises questions about their opportunities to adjust to and participate effectively in New Zealand's essentially English-speaking environment.
The significance of the role of English in the settlement of NESB immigrants has been underlined in a number of studies carried out in New Zealand in recent years, including Lai (1994), Boyer (1996), Roberts (1997), Barnard (1998), Pishief (1999) and Ho et al. (1996, 2000). The consensus reached in these studies is that development of English-language proficiency is critical in facilitating social contacts, in enhancing employment and educational opportunities, and in providing the basis for productive involvement in the economic, social and cultural life of New Zealand.
While English is the language of the external environment in New Zealand and occupies a central role in everyday life, we know relatively little about the role English plays in the world of the immigrant and the realities immigrants encounter in attempting to develop skills in the language of their host country. In this context, the studies reported here have attempted to investigate the relationship between the NESB immigrant or refugee and the English-language environment that predominates in most spheres of life in New Zealand. The two studies, conducted in 2000, formed part of the New Settlers Programme (NSP) at Massey University, a research programme supported by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. (1)
The first of the two studies investigated the interaction of adult NESB immigrants and refugees with formal and informal sources for learning English, and how particular contexts may contribute to the development of English-language skills in the post-arrival period. This study (hereafter referred to as the Learners' Survey) also explored the perceptions of immigrants about the domains of individual, societal and government responsibilities in relation to the promotion of the English-language proficiency of new settlers. The second study (referred to as the Providers' Survey) examined the kinds of more formal learning programmes available in educational institutions and training establishments. It sought also to tap the providers' perceptions of the needs of learners in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programmes and the difficulties they face in developing competency in English; and to elicit suggestions on ways in which English-language provision for adult immigrants and refugees might be improved. (2)
LEARNERS' SURVEY: RESEARCH DESIGN AND FINDINGS
The investigation was carried out using in-depth interviews (phase one), a postal questionnaire (phase two) and a stakeholder response procedure (phase three). In phase one, interviews were held with recent immigrants in Palmerston North and Wellington in order to explore their expectations prior to arrival concerning English-language learning opportunities in this country, their experiences of language learning post-arrival, and their response to such experiences.
The findings from phase one were used to generate the 29-item questionnaire in phase two. In March 2000, after piloting, 377 questionnaires were sent out to Auckland, Wellington and Tauranga ESOL Home Tutor Schemes. Information was supplied to both home tutors and immigrants emphasising that the questionnaire was to be completed by immigrant learners of English and that home tutors should take care not to influence their choice of response. Two hundred and eighty questionnaires were returned, of which 32 were not usable due to many incomplete sections and difficulties with legibility. Thus the 248 usable questionnaires yielded a response rate of 65.8%. In phase three of the project stakeholders were given an opportunity to provide further perspectives on the results of the survey.
The participants in the Learners' Survey came from 41 different countries, the five main countries of origin being the People's Republic of China, Korea, Taiwan, Iraq and Russia. Their native language backgrounds were equally diverse: a total of 49 mother tongues were reported, with Mandarin, Korean, Russian, Cantonese, Arabic and Somali the main languages spoken. The largest age category was 30-39 years, and almost three-quarters of the participants were female (73.9%). In terms of educational background, over half the participants had …