235872 English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL): Improving English language acquisition as a tool to reduce health disparities

Monday, October 31, 2011: 12:42 PM

Rosemary M. Caron, PhD, MPH , Health Management and Policy, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
Thandi Tshabangu-Soko, MPH, MS, MA , School of Health Sciences, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Recent studies have shown that English proficiency is a significant measure of success in integrating refugees into mainstream society. When these objectives are not met, in the short term, resources are wasted and the groups will remain marginalized. In the long term, failure of resettled refugees to integrate into their new community could develop into social isolation, poverty, and health disparities. Manchester, NH is a refugee resettlement community for the Sub-Sahara African community. We examined the effectiveness of English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs in this population who has experienced language barriers and English illiteracy. Current ESOL models have repeatedly failed for pre- and non-literate African immigrants and refugees and therefore, this population's needs remain unmet. The approach to date reflects either, a cultural gap between the program developers and their constituency or an unintentional disregard for the fundamental dynamics that shape other communities. We utilized semi-structured interviews with ESOL teachers, the State ESOL administrator, and the Somali and Burundi refugee populations who have been through the ESOL program more than once. Additional studies were reviewed to establish trends or familiar patterns. The findings include the following: (a) there was a high preference for instructors who speak the same language as the participants; (b) the number of hours allocated to ESOL classes were not adequate, and; (c) current programs were not effective for pre- and non-literate people as initially envisioned. Recommendations are offered to improve the effectiveness of ESOL programs and that the resultant health disparities experienced by this population due to a limited English proficiency are minimized.

Learning Areas:
Diversity and culture
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs

Learning Objectives:
At the conclusion of this session, participants will be able to: • Define limited English proficiency and illiteracy as a complex public health problem for a resettled refugee population. • Describe the health disparities experienced by a resettled refugee population due to limited English proficiency. • Describe three recommendations to improve the effectiveness of ESOL programs for an African refugee population.

Keywords: Refugees, Health Disparities

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have over ten years experience as a public health practitioner in an urban community and I am currently an academician teaching public health to undergraduate and graduate students. I am also the former Director of the MPH Program at the University of New Hampshire.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.