By Evelyn Fella
A Need and a Solution
With a 26% increase in the number of immigrants applying for naturalization,* and citizenship classes across the U.S. filling up with long waiting lists, a need for more immigrant services was apparent. To address this need, the California State Library, the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE), and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center worked together to answer the question: How can technology be used to help underserved immigrants pursuing citizenship?
Thanks to the keen insight and expertise of this partnership, an exciting free course for immigrants considering U.S. citizenship is available on the USA Learns website. The USA Learns Citizenship course is a comprehensive free online course and a natural extension of the free English courses already available on USA Learns.
In the new USA Learns Citizenship course, students use a mix of engaging, high-quality multimedia activities to acquire information about the naturalization process and skills needed for the interview. Units cover eligibility, benefits, rights and responsibilities of citizenship, finding legal help if needed, avoiding immigration fraud, and preparing for the oral review of the N-400 and the English and Civics tests in the naturalization interview.
The N-400 Review
Though much is made of the 100 Civics questions, experienced citizenship teachers and USCIS personnel confirmed that for many candidates, the N-400 application review is actually the most challenging part of the interview. During the interview, candidates must recognize vocabulary in the officer’s questions that might be considered legalese and unusual even for native speakers. Also, officers can word the questions in any variety of ways with difficult grammatical structures. Not surprising then, the most unique and well-received unit of USA Learns Citizenship is devoted to the N-400 application review during the naturalization interview, material rarely covered elsewhere.
USA Learns Citizenship helps candidates prepare for the initial meeting with the USCIS officer and the N-400 review in the following ways:
- Overview of what to expect when arriving at the USCIS office, with video and audio practice of relevant vocabulary, small talk topics, and phrases.
- N-400 questions presented in thematic lessons.
- “Red flag” questions with tips on when to seek legal help.
- 150 key words from the N-400 application form, each presented with an image, a definition, and in a sentence.
- Listening activities designed to improve comprehension of key words and structures in a long question and to recognize different ways of asking the same question.
- Practicing appropriate responses, including asking for clarification.
- Grammar practice of verb tenses in questions and answers.
- Online speaking tools practicing face-to-face responses to “officers” in videos.
Preparing for the Civics Test
Of course, an important part of any citizenship class is helping students learn the 100 Civics questions. With the goal of making the answers meaningful, and not just an exercise in memorization, USA Learns Citizenship has grouped the questions into 15 topical lessons, placing each question in its context of U.S. history or government organization. 120 key words and concepts from the questions are presented with colorful images, definitions, and sample sentences. In each lesson answers to the questions are woven into a narrative and presented in beautiful animations, USCIS video clips, or readings. Activities always follow to verify learning of the content.
Answering the officer’s question is the ultimate tool for self-assessment. The USCIS civics practice test videos are creatively incorporated into the USA Learns speaking tools. Students first practice their pronunciation of possible answers and later, answer the USCIS officer’s questions, face to face.
Practice for the Reading and Writing tests are incorporated into each of the Civics lessons. Students record themselves reading text containing the USCIS reading vocabulary words. They can always repeat and try to improve their pronunciation. Preparation for the writing test is done with the dictation of sentences using the USCIS writing vocabulary. Students receive feedback on each letter typed.
Other highlights the of USA Learns Citizenship course include:
- A course guide, similar to a virtual teacher, gives special information and tips at the beginning of lessons.
- A variety of “officers” of different ethnicities and different accents provide realistic language input and listening comprehension practice.
- Clearly stated learning goals begin each lesson and learning logs end each lesson for self-assessment.
- Engaging animations that help applicants protect themselves from immigration fraud.
- Intuitive design, easy-to-use navigation for users of all levels of technology experience.
- A user-friendly learning management system tracks learners’ scores and progress.
The USA Learns website is ideal for non-traditional learning environments such as library classes or tutoring sessions, immigration welcome centers or adult centers, and of course, the independent home learner. Adult education citizenship teachers and library staff will find the site enhances and pairs nicely with their current curriculum. To access the new course, visit usalearns.org and register as a student using a unique email address. Check it out and spread the word about this exciting new and free tool.
About the Developers and Funders
The USA Learns Citizenship course was supported in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. Content was developed in partnership with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the New Americans Campaign, with support from the Grove Foundation. The core content development, programming, and multimedia work was completed by SCOE’s Internet and Media Services department.
Evelyn Fella, M.A. TESL is an ESL consultant specializing in instructional design and curriculum writing. She has been designing multimedia tools for ESL students and training teachers in their use for over 30 years. Evelyn is the lead writer and instructional designer of the USA Learns courses.