Inmates Seize the Opportunity to Learn Languages in Prison Posted by Transparent Language on Sep 20, 2017 in Language Learning, Language News
In 2016, we announced our partnership with Edovo, an edtech start-up devoted to providing meaningful learning opportunities for the incarcerated population.
Incarcerated Americans spend more time watching TV than anything else. Most of it’s a huge waste of their time and potential—and the $74 billion spent on corrections annually. If the goal of incarceration is truly to reform inmates and reduce recidivism (a relapse into criminal behavior), why not provide them with educational and skill-building opportunities?
That’s why we contributed Transparent Language Online to Edovo’s catalogue, which is delivered on low-cost tablets to inmates around the country. Learning a new language has obvious benefits for inmates—it’s a highly-desirable job skill; it can connect inmates with their heritage or provide an interactive group activity for those who choose to learn together; and bilingualism has cognitive advantages that have been shown to benefit adult learners, including increased critical thinking, perception, and multi-tasking skills.
Now, nearly a year later, we’re astounded by the results. We took a look at user data from the first half of this year, and here’s what we’ve found: 2,101 learners logged an impressive 18,585 learning sessions at more than 80 facilities nationwide. While the average session time was roughly 15 minutes (exactly what we recommend for retention), 3.7% of sessions were an hour or longer. A few dedicated learners even logged 3-hour sessions.
“Edovo uses self-directed learning model where learners earn points for time spent on education, vocations and self-improvement that can be spent on entertainment like games, movies and music,” Gina Grant, Edovo’s Director of Content, said. “The time users are spending learning languages alone shows how engaged they are in taking on new challenges and skills.”
With more than 100 languages offered in the system, it still comes as no surprise that English is the most studied language among Edovo users. A little more than half of the English learning is being done on our Beginner-level Essentials courses indicating that a good number of the users are seeking to build basic English skills. Inmates seeking to improve their English conversation skill with our Intermediate-level immersion courses account for the other half of the English learners. The most common first language of these learners is Spanish—a finding indicative of the high number inmates of Hispanic descent.
Connecting with their heritage—Hispanic or otherwise—is a motivating factor for many Edovo users, including Brian, serving in facility in Michigan: “I love the Transparent Language courses. To be able to brush up on my unused foreign language skills and to further my knowledge into the nuances of other cultures is an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I will eventually spend most of my Edovo time on the Transparent Language courses. I was born in Brazil and we are considered Nikkei (Japanese ancestry and Afro-Brazilian). So, the ability to catch up is a dream come true.”
When it comes to foreign languages, Spanish is the unsurprising leader of the pack. The Spanish Essentials Course is by far the most accessed, followed by courses in Italian, German, French, and Japanese. Inmates are not only learning the “big” languages, though—76 of the 100 languages offered have been accessed, including significant interest in Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Irish, and Swedish.
Andy, also serving in a facility in Michigan, is studying Spanish and considering Irish in the future: “The Transparent Language course is very helpful. Many of the people where I live only speak Spanish, and while I already speak Spanish this course can help me do so better. Also, being that I am of Irish descent I am considering taking the Irish course, this is a blessing to be able to possibly learn some of my ancestors original language.”
While some may be learning with us to pass time, connect with their heritage, or just have fun (all applaudable in our eyes), others are logging in to attain a new skill, or simply communicate with those around them. Non-English speakers, or speakers with low proficiency, can suffer from linguistic isolation, which can have surprisingly similar consequences as physical isolation including disorientation or poor decision-making. Access to ESL and foreign language materials enables inmates to overcome language barriers in their facilities and prepare for life outside of them: “Humans have an inherent need to communicate, and to be denied this need is to be denied a fundamental right.”