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Applied Linguistics & Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Applied Linguistics & Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

In the Department of Arts & Humanities

APPLE Lecture > Apple Lecture 2010

Apple Lecture 2010

2010 Antony John Kunnan

Language Assessment for Immigration and Citizenship

This talk will address language assessment for immigration and citizenship. Although language assessments were used for immigration in Australia (the infamous dictation test in early 20th century) and in the U.S. for naturalization of citizenship from 1952 (first as a statutory requirement and then as a standardized test in the 1990s), many countries today require the taking of tests for immigration (for example, the Netherlands) and citizenship (for example, the U.K.). In all these requirements and tests, the mandatory part is assessment of language ability in the dominant language of the country; other areas that are tested include history and government, knowledge of society or practical living.  Several recent concerns have been raised: (1) the issue of public monolingualism as the norm along with the degradation of the value of bilingualism, multilingualism and individual language rights (May, 2005; Kymlicka, 1995); (2) the varying levels of mastery expected and the type of language ability expected in different countries (Shohamy and McNamara, 2009); and (3) the meaningfulness of the requirements in terms of the requirements' purpose of social cohesion and civic nationalism in the case of the U.S. Naturalization Test (Kunnan, 2009). This situation raises some fundamental questions: What is the purpose of the language requirement for citizenship? Is the purpose an idealistic one like social cohesion or civic integration, or is the purpose more pragmatic such as functional ability in a country's dominant language? Or is the test working as an obstacle rather than something an applicant will aspire to?  No easy answers are available as immigration history, policy and politics and public language policy and testing are intertwined.

On February 12, 2010, Anthony Kunnan visited Teachers College and gave two presentations.

In the first presentation, attended by students in the Applied Linguistics and TESOL pro-grams, Dr. Kunnan talked about evaluating a test by building an evaluation argument.

For the second presentation, which was open to the public, Dr. Kunnan discussed language assessment in the context of tests for citizenship and immigration.

Dr. Kunnan began by picking apart commonly held assumptions about language, its relation-ship to the nation-state, and its relationship to identity. From that perspective, he critically looked at tests required for immigration and citizenship in a wide range of countries. The picture that Dr. Kunnan ultimately painted is one of a world in which testing requirements for citizenship vary wildly from one country to another. For instance, the US and Korea require language tests. Canada has no such requirement, but only offers civ-ics exams for citizenship in French or English. Belgium has no language test, but requires language ability in German, Dutch, or French.

Dr. Kunnan, in his talk, projected an uneasiness about testing for citizenship and naturalization. “What is the impact or the consequences of language requirements?” he asked. Do they really encourage applicants to take language courses? Are these requirements ultimately beneficial for society?

With the likelihood of in-creasing use of tests for immigration and citizenship, he ended his lecture with a call to those in assessment and applied linguistics to conduct research on tests for immigration and citizenship. He also asked researchers to question unlawful and discriminatory practices.