The Difficulties Experienced by Generation-1.5 Students: Learning in English, but Speaking Another Language at Home

educating generation 1.5 children

Have you heard of Generation-1.5 students? They are children who were born in Canada, but do not speak English at home. Despite having a different first language, these students are not considered ESL (English as a Second Language or English Language Learners) by their schools.


Education experts call these Canadian-born children “Generation 1.5” because they’re not quite 1st-generation immigrants and not quite 2nd-generation – they’re in between, and they’re underserviced by the schools they attend. Generation-1.5 students sound like native English speakers, so teachers often conclude that their academic difficulties have no reasonable explanation. Of course, there are reasonable explanations, and recent research has identified three. 






Over the last few years, I’ve been part of a research study that has tried to identify the reasons for the academic difficulties of Generation-1.5 students, especially in relation to their performance in literacy-related tasks. The findings are fascinating, and my colleague Dr. Sandra Schecter (the primary researcher) was recently invited to present them to The Royal Swedish Academy (awarders of the Nobel Prize).


First, most Generation-1.5 students never learn to read and write in the language spoken in their home, and therefore do not receive the full benefits of being bilingual. Simply speaking, rather than being fully literate in their home language, Generation 1.5 students are often left deficient in both languages. For these students, their exposure to different languages at school and home does not provide the cognitive advantages of bilingualism. Meanwhile, new immigrant students who begin their Canadian schooling as “ESL” and who “maintain” literacy in their first language benefit both from a focus on the transfer of cognitive skills across languages and from funded support through the school system.


Second, parents of Generation-1.5 students are concerned with their children’s academic success, but feel incapable of facilitating it. While they may address some of their concerns with their children’s teachers, they themselves are unable to provide adequate in-home support for the development of their children’s English literacy.

Third, educators tend to value linguistic and cultural diversity through positive affect, rather than fostering students’ learning through intellectually challenging, academically rigorous, and culturally responsive curriculum. Research shows that most Generation-1.5 students who are academically successful are enrolled in supplementary after-school enrichment programs that fill the gaps in public school education. Tellingly, the one commonality among all of the parents interviewed in the research, regardless of their children’s academic attainment, was an unwillingness to trust their children’s potential for future career opportunities and social mobility to the public school system.



Children Learning


So, what’s the strategy for moving forward?  For the short run, parents of Generation-1.5 students may want to seek out high-quality after-school enrichment opportunities for their children – programs that promote critical thinking and academic advancement.  For the long run, I hope that my colleagues and I can influence Ontario policy makers to introduce more enrichment-oriented learning activities in public schools, thus better supporting all students, including Generation 1.5. This will require the willingness, on the part of professional educators, to develop targeted teaching strategies and to question basic assumptions about Canadian-born students. Of course, it would be even more productive if we could address the Generation-1.5 conundrum at the level of teacher education, so that difficulties faced by this vulnerable demographic are not so readily misattributed to inferior levels of language development (as opposed to different life experiences).  


It’s time Generation-1.5 students receive the attention they deserve. We need awareness at all levels of formal schooling, a commitment to Canadian-born linguistic-minority students, and responsive (as well as responsible) educational practices.





Brought to you by our in-house education expert, Dr. Karine Rashkovsky, Founder & Director of Brain Power Enrichment Programs 

You can write to Dr. Rashkovsky at: [email protected]

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Dr. Karine Rashkovsky, Ph.D. Education Policy – Founder & Director of Brain Power


Karine has a passion for inspirational educational experiences and has been changing the lives of many students and teachers for nearly 20 years. Her social-entrepreneurial mission has always been to create innovative solutions to the problems of both status-quo-proliferating education and accessibility to top-caliber programs for high-achieving students. Karine’s realization of Brain Power - a community-oriented after-school enrichment program venture (focused on English Language Arts, Math/Problem Solving, Robotics & Coding, and Public Speaking for children in grades 1 - 12) demonstrates a successful triumph. Combined with her ongoing research and presence in academia, Brain Power allows Karine to impact the field of education in transformative ways. Brain Power is located on the 3rd floor of the Lebovic Campus (Schwartz/Reisman Community Centre).





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