How Do Language and Cultural Barriers Make It Difficult for Immigrants?
Approximately 75,000 foreign nationals migrate to the United States each year seeking better opportunities. For those who do not speak or understand English, achieving their dream of a new life in America is often dashed quickly, when the language barrier impacts their ability to obtain basic needs.
Non-English-speaking immigrants face significant challenges. Most immigrants do not speak English when they arrive in the United States, and many are illiterate as well. The language barrier impacts every aspect of their lives, such as the following:
- Housing: Obtaining housing is crucial for recent immigrants and their families, which are often large. Sadly, the inability to communicate effectively forces them into poor and inadequate housing where they may be taken advantage of, mistreated, and threatened.
- Employment: Non-English-speaking migrants face incredible challenges in trying to find employment with consistent and decent wages. Often, immigrants wind up in unstable jobs with excessively long hours, low wages, and no benefits, such as health insurance. Well-educated and trained immigrants who were doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and other professionals in their home countries are regulated to menial jobs in the United States. Many foreign nationals migrate to the United States with their entire family, who frequently all live together. The lack of finding secure and well-paying employment has a drastic effect on the entire family, often leading to years of mounting debt, struggling, and poverty.
- Health care: A large percentage of immigrants do not seek out health care in the United States, largely owing to the language barrier and fear of deportation. Under the Affordable Care Act, immigrants are not eligible to apply for Medicaid for five years, but many cannot afford health insurance until that time. The communication barrier worries medical professionals as well, particularly when a patient is diagnosed with a chronic illness or terminal disease. If a patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure but is unable to understand the doctor’s instructions, they may not obtain medication and further treatment, which can have fatal consequences.
There have been many strides in recent years to overcome communication challenges in health care settings. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides a legal basis for health care facilities to provide trained interpreters to serve as intermediaries between migrant families and medical professionals. Recent advances in technology allow health care facilities to utilize computerized translation devices to easily communicate with patients.
Additionally, mental health is a concern of many health care professionals as well. Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are common among immigrants who flee their homeland because of war, violence, political turmoil, lack of food, and extreme poverty. Many foreign nationals refuse mental health treatment for fear of being scorned or shamed if mental health is a taboo issue in their native culture.
- Education: Navigating the American education system can be overwhelming to everyone, but most significantly to immigrants and their children. A child’s inability to communicate and test in English oftentimes results in being placed in grades appropriate to their age rather than their knowledge and abilities. Although younger children tend to adapt and pick up the language more quickly, there is rarely educational support from parents who cannot speak English and may be illiterate. For some families, education can be a source of contention. School-aged children tend to learn English and adapt to American lifestyles quickly, often angering older family members who interpret the behavior as shunning their native culture and beliefs.
Many children may experience cultural barriers at school as well. Some may experience bullying or shunning over differences in appearance, language, clothing, and food. Children who do not speak English have no way of reporting bullying or abuse to teachers and administrators, allowing the treatment to continue.
- Transportation: Language barriers and illiteracy often prevent migrants from obtaining a driver’s license, and taking public transportation is difficult if you do not understand announcements; cannot read signs; and do not have, or not know how, to pay for fares. Transportation proves to be an exceptionally difficult situation for many immigrants, as they are not able to seek better paying jobs in other locations and resort to lesser-paying jobs near their home.
Not speaking the language frequently causes migrant families to seek out others from their native country, and it is not uncommon in many cities to have large neighborhoods of the same nationality. Residing with others who share the same beliefs, culture, religion, and language is of great comfort to many families arriving in the United States. These communities help support one another, and the more established families help guide newer members to life in America.
Although there are many benefits these neighborhoods bring to the community, cloistering with others who do not speak English does not encourage some immigrants to pursue learning to speak, read, and write the language. Nearly every town across the country offers some form of English as a Second Language (ESL) course, but poor work schedules, family obligations, lack of resources, or lack of transportation to the classes sometimes prohibits immigrants from attending. For older adults and those who are illiterate in their native language, learning English is very challenging.
Adapting to new cultures can be difficult for many immigrants to overcome, affecting their ability to integrate into their new society. Family dynamics, politics, religion, societal norms, traditions, food, dress, and other cultural matters differ in every country. Cultural barriers prevent interactions between groups and create misunderstanding that may be seen negatively by all.
Cultural barriers affect how groups interact with one another, and even good intentions may be perceived negatively by immigrants and native residents alike, causing tension and strife for all involved. For many migrants coming to the United States, cultural norms can be very difficult to overcome, making integration into their new society difficult and lengthy.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Assist Clients Migrating to the United States
Leaving one’s homeland to resettle in the United States is not an easy decision, but thousands of families migrate each year to seek out better work and life opportunities. Life in America can be challenging for those newly arrived, and finding assistance can be difficult. The seasoned Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC can help. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.