English language learners mourn loss of Jeopardy host

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Sep 23, 2020
Elly Shariat spoke only Farsi when she moved to the US from Iran as a young girl. But when her father introduced her to "Jeopardy!" her world opened up.
She learned to pronounce words that appeared on screen. Her dad even paid her 25 cents when she got answers right.

For millions of Americans, Alex Trebek felt like one of the family. Millions of "Jeopardy!" viewers loved him for the way he deadpanned rap lyrics while impeccably dressed. He made stars out of some contestants and lightheartedly needled them, too.

But for scores of first-generation Americans and their families, Alex Trebek helped teach them English five nights a week.

"'Jeopardy!' was that wholesome show that you never had to be embarrassed to put on with your immigrant parents," Shariat told CNN. "It brought our whole family so much closer together and the loss of Alex Trebek is going to leave a huge hole in our hearts and our home."

News of Trebek's death at age 80 this week, less than two years after his diagnosis with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, has devastated viewers who learned English by watching him nightly on "Jeopardy!" He helped them feel more comfortable in their adopted country, they said, and inspired a lifelong love of learning (and, of course, game shows).

'Jeopardy!' was an intro to American culture

Over two decades of studies have shown that immigrants often learn English from watching TV, and that reduces some of the stress that comes with acculturation, or the process of assimilating into the dominant culture.

"Jeopardy!" is, in many ways, the perfect primer on America for new Americans. It's on basic cable, airs five nights a week after typical work hours and its subjects span history, the arts and pop culture touchstones -- plus, it's anchored by one of the most likable men on TV.

At least two people who learned English from "Jeopardy!" have appeared on the show to tell Trebek about his impact on their lives: in February, contestant Kristyna Ng talked about growing up in Canada as a Chinese immigrant who parroted Trebek to learn English.