Review of What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More by Lance Johnson
I read What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z just thinking about how America looks to new immigrants and citizens and realized it would be a great tool for ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. One comment on Amazon from an ESL teacher states the book is “heaven” for such a classroom. The book helps foreigners who will benefit from a better understanding of America. It will also inform Americans who want to learn more about the U.S. and how it compares to other countries around the world, which is a frequent topic of discussion at our house. It even includes what we think of foreigners and what they think of us. I was born in Minnesota and found the information to be such an interesting way to see life here. I feel the book would be a wonderful resource for people seeking citizenship in the USA.
The chapters are grouped into four sections.
- Section I – America’s Heritage. The historical background of why America and its people became who and what we are today.
- Section II – America’s Culture. How do we live our everyday lives, ranging from customs and etiquette, to what’s on the minds of Americans, to education, literature, movies, and so on?
- Section III – America’s Business. This section explains our complex business environment, operations, customs, and why American businesses are successful around the world.
- Section IV – America’s Language. Grammar, speech, writing, and communication skills, including accent reduction.
I would think ESL/ELL teachers would find this to be an excellent resource which could be used as a reference tool, added to school libraries (it is already in 600 libraries), and even for lesson planning. Student questions might more clearly and easily be answered by consulting the book directly. The heritage section includes the spirit of the people which is also a thread running through the book, the American dream, immigrants, the population, families, languages, standard of living, social equality, and our roots. What is the Asian American Experience? This is interesting to us as family members have traveled and lived in SE Asia, as well as having a daughter adopted from South Korea. This section includes information about foreign heritage influence in our cities.
Section one also includes discussion about our government: federal, state, county, and city. Political parties are explained. Some teachers might find the clear and unemotional text helpful for class discussion. The geography of the USA is discussed, regions are named (I was surprised I wasn’t aware of all the names of regions such as the intermountain west). The regional names we don’t always hear on the news can be out of sight, out of mind. This section is a good refresher and even lists mountains, rivers, lakes, and national parks. Can you name all those or would a list be handy to have on hand?
There are hints and vignettes, as well as helpful definitions sprinkled throughout the book thus making other references not required to read the book.
The history section could do double duty as a study guide prior to standardized testing, as well as informing immigrants who might be preparing for citizenship tests. In fact, there is an actual citizenship sample test with answers at the end of the book. Would I pass it today? It was an interesting read as I have never taken such a test. Exploration in the 1500s, settlement in the 1600s, independence in the 1700s, expansion in the 1800s, and conflicts and reforms of the 1900s are included. The new millennium and immigration history are also covered. Teachers might like the clear information, and students might appreciate a full understanding of the historical timeline of America.
Laws, legal vocabulary, the court system, alternatives to courtrooms, legal assistance, legal status of foreigners, lawyers, rulings that changed America, and famous court cases are discussed in section one. Feel like we are getting to the end of the book? Not even close yet . . . we are just getting to religion (Christianity, Protestant churches, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox church, Judaism, other fundamental religions, and non-mainstream religions. The author states:
Religions are highly complicated, interwoven and controversial. With the aim of acquainting you with our religious diversity, this chapter provides overviews of religion and its effect on our culture, politics, and the spiritual lives of Americans. It is meant to give you just an inkling (hint) of this vast subject that would take volumes to explain.
Americans do not even agree on measurement systems. Ounces and pounds? Metric measurement? Johnson explains where each are used and that we have never fully converted to the Metric system. He covers temperature and money, as well. Very important!
Section 2 starts with America’s culture and could be consulted for customs and etiquette by anyone. Customs, influencing factors, greeting people, how to behave at social gatherings, and conversation customs might be helpful information for many people (even some who were born here). Phone etiquette, drinking and smoking customs, and automobile customs . . . it is fun to read a “mirror” on ourselves, as well as providing information for new immigrants. Americans have walking customs? Read about it. Superstitions? Yes, there is a little information on that, too. At the Mayo Clinic, we notice there are no 13th floors. The clinic says they are not superstitious but they realize patients might think seeing a doctor on floor thirteen could be unlucky. Thank you customs are discussed. We are up to about page 153 of about 600 pages. Whew! That is so much for recent immigrants to try to absorb. No wonder it isn’t a short process.
Section 2 also covers our education system and provides information about financial assistance for college. Free colleges and even Kahn Academy are discussed, as well. Relationships such as dating and courtship are shared, American style. The literature section could be read prior to standardized testing! There is a film section and I think I might check it when I want to watch a movie. Art and artists, museums, and sports are also discussed in this section. Food and dining, dress and appearance, clothing sizes (different here from what many people are used to), our media sources, holidays and traditions, what Americans think (who knew) and what foreigners think about us.
America’s business is thoroughly discussed in section three. Business ethics, trace, accounting systems, business organization, investments, retirement plans, banking, labor unions, entrepreneurs (there is that American spirit again), and more are covered. Did you ever think about trying to explain all this to English as Second Language Learners? Capitalism is also defined. Appointments, small talk, business entertaining, and owning a business here are also included. Even though written for immigrants, there are probably many American college students who could benefit from reading about how this all looks to others. Information about getting that all-important job is shared.
The Best is Last
Section 4 is about language. Again, this would be a good review for many secondary students (and many adults). This is the section ESL teachers might use first. Common errors are explained, as well as how to fix them. There is an English trivia quiz. The second part of this section is to speak better English. Vowel sounds, consonant sounds, sentence stress, slang sayings (teachers might not want to send students to the Urban Dictionary), and the difference between British and American English are also covered. This section is excellent for teachers and students.
1. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address 551
2. Top 50 Liberal Arts Colleges in America 552
3. Top 50 Universities in America 553
4. Colleges with Largest Percentage of International Students 554
5. Sample Income Tax Form 1040 555
6. The Pulitzer Prize for Literature 557
7. Academy Awards – Best Picture 55
8. Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus 559
9. The 50 U.S. States 560
10. U.S. History Government Quiz 561
Johnson, Lance. What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More (Kindle Locations 3530-3533). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Kindle Edition.