Thesis reveals flaws in language teaching

October 20, 2005, vol. 34, no. 4
By Diane Luckow

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A recent master of arts thesis examining the psycho-social adjustment of Chinese immigrant children in satellite families in Canada reveals that they are basically well-adjusted and surprisingly, have a better relationship with their parents, especially their fathers, than they had in their home countries.

The study, by SFU international student Paul Yeung, also reveals that English as a second language (ESL) classes do not meet the children's educational needs.

Yeung, who received a master of arts in counselling psychology during the October convocation ceremonies, undertook the study because, he says, “It is my genuine belief that we have not heard enough of satellite Chinese children's voices since they tend to be kept in the background.”

Satellite children is a term that refers to immigrant Chinese children who have at least one parent, usually the father, working outside of the country and whom they rarely see.

Yeung came to Canada in 1994 from Hong Kong at age 14 without his parents and lived with his godfather while attending Bodwell high school in Vancouver and then Langara college before transferring to SFU in 1999. A number of friends from satellite families prompted him to find out more about how this group deals with immigration challenges and with the separation from one of their parents.

Yeung interviewed 32 children aged 10-19 living in satellite families who had emigrated from China, Taiwan or Hong Kong within the past four years. A unique finding, he says, was that a majority of the participants felt closer to their fathers because they were having more serious communication with them by phone and email than they would have if they were living together.

An important aspect of the study for Yeung, who will remain at SFU to study for a PhD in educational psychology, was the children's adjustment to school and community.

He examined discrimination, social functioning, language, education and friendship. The most important finding, he feels, was that the children feel the current ESL system doesn't meet their expectations.

Many wanted to join a regular classroom immediately because they felt they could handle the regular coursework. The majority of teachers, he says, just assume that they don't speak English.

“What they would like to see is teachers challenging them - letting them know what the learning objectives are and how they're being evaluated. As it is, they're just attending class and have no motivation because they know they'll end up, one way or another, in regular class.”

Yeung says his thesis was one way to give satellite children a way to share their struggles. “We can learn from them about how we can change ESL and social programs to make them more at home in the community right at the beginning. They do have something to contribute. They would just like to know how they can do that.”

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