Experiences of learning english as a second language in the US


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Experiences of learning english as a second language in the US

  1. 1. Sponsoring Committee: Professor Frank Tang, Chairperson Professor Miriam Eisenstein Ebsworth Professor Margot Ely EXPERIENCES OF LEARNING ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE IN THE UNITED STATES: FIVE PEOPLE'S LANGUAGE STORIES Sonna L. Opstad Program in Multilingual Multicultural Studies Department of Teaching and Learning Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development New York University 2009
  2. 2. UMI Number: 3346266 Copyright 2009 by Opstad, Sonna L. All rights reserved. INFORMATION TO USERS The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted. Broken or indistinct print, colored or poor quality illustrations and photographs, print bleed-through, substandard margins, and improper alignment can adversely affect reproduction. In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if unauthorized copyright material had to be removed, a note will indicate the deletion. ® UMI UMI Microform 3346266 Copyright 2009 by ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved. This microform edition is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code. ProQuest LLC 789 E. Eisenhower Parkway PO Box 1346 Ann Arbor, Ml 48106-1346
  3. 3. Copyright © 2009 Sonna L. Opstad
  4. 4. I hereby guarantee that no part of the dissertation which I have submitted for publication has been heretofore published and/or copyrighted in the United Stated of America, except in the case of passages quoted from other published sources; that I am the sole author and proprietor of said dissertation; that the dissertation contains no matter which, if published, will be libelous or otherwise injurious, or infringe in any way the copyright of any other party; and that I will defend, indemnify, and hold harmless New York University against all suits and , proceedings which may be brought against New York University by reason of the publication of said dissertation. J6/SL I0%
  5. 5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am fortunate to have benefited from the support, wisdom, guidance, friendship, encouragement, patience and understanding of a number of people throughout this experience. I offer my very sincere gratitude to them here. To Dr. Frank Tang, my chair, I am grateful for his guidance in all aspects of this process, for reminding me that the dissertation is my first research study and not my whole life's work, and especially for the sense of balance he provided. He seemed to have an intuitive sense of when I needed patience and when I needed to be pushed. I hope I can develop that sort of sense with my students. I am indebted to Dr. Margot Ely for all of her extra time and care, for allowing me to intrude on her retirement, and for her confidence in me. I am especially grateful to her for teaching me about qualitative research. She has shown me a way of learning that has helped me to make sense of life both personally and professionally. And I try to create that welcoming feeling I found in her classes in my own teaching. Dr. Miriam Eisenstein Ebsworth has been a mentor to me since I first started the master's program in Bilingual Education at NYU. I have been inspired by her knowledge and commitment to the field, and appreciated her enthusiasm iii
  6. 6. and humor. I thank her for all her ongoing encouragement and for helping me get the job that kept my head above water. Laurie Knis-Matthews, my friend and colleague, has been there for me every step of the way. She's shared the excitement, the frustration, the meltdowns and the celebrations. I could call her anytime and count on finding an empathetic ear. My thanks also, Laurie, for the opportunity to work with your students. Thank you to Alice Ganz for the e-mails, meetings at the diner and the working conferences at the swimming pool. They helped to provide much needed relaxation in addition to research support. My thanks to Ming-Chi Own for her insight, perspective and encouragement. I wish you lived closer! I am grateful to my sister, Karen Opstad, and my brother, Steven Opstad, for their patience and tolerance while I indulged in this work. They endured the financial repercussions of my choice, my hermit-like behavior, and my whining, all without a complaint of their own. I am indebted to my parents, Woody and Reba Opstad, for much more than I can begin to list here. They embodied the spirit of "Don't give up" and were proud of me, as long as I tried my best. I wish they were still here. To my dog Elsa, for her unconditional love and for understanding more than is humanely possible. Most of all, I offer my thanks to the participants in this study, Joseph, Nari, Ella, William, and Dino, for so generously sharing their stories with me. iv
  7. 7. TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS iii CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION 1 II RELATED LITERATURE 6 Attitudes, Policies, and Bilingualism Language Attrition, Language Loss, and Language Shift Benefits of Bilingualism Connections between LI, Identity, Culture, and Family Complicity and Native Language Loss III RESEARCH METHODS 6 10 15 17 21 23 Participants Participant Selection - Joseph, Nari, Ella, and William The Chinese Heritage Language School Participant Selection - Dino Data Collection Field Log Data Analysis Category Files and Theme Statements Trustworthiness Support Groups Prolonged Engagement Participant Checks Socio-cultural Issues Researcher's Stance Presentation of the Data I-Stories Themes and Discussion 23 24 25 30 33 37 37 38 39 39 40 41 41 42 48 48 49 Continued V
  8. 8. THE PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR STORIES 50 Interviewing Joseph Joseph's Story Interviewing Nari Nari's Story Interviewing Ella Ella's Story Interviewing William William's Story Interviewing Dino Dino's Story 51 53 74 75 93 95 118 120 138 143 VARIATIONS ON A THEME - COMMON THREADS Feelings about Language Proficiency, What it Means to Know a Language, and the Struggle to Develop and Maintain Languages in the United States How proficient I feel in my heritage language is complex. It varies over time, from situation to situation, in comparison to others and with my level of confidence Reading and writing are part of knowing my language I used my heritage language only with my family and now the way I speak doesn't work outside the family Use it or lose it I need both formal study in my language and a setting that requires me to use it in order to develop and maintain it I had no special help with English in the United States, so I struggled Discussion The Relationship between Language and Self and Issues about English as a Replacement Language Language is part of who I am My feelings about my language and who I am reflect the language attitudes I experienced With my Asian features, I feel that I am not accepted in the United States because of the way I look; when I replaced my language with English I lost a part of my self 168 169 169 177 180 182 186 189 195 203 203 208 216 Continued vi
  9. 9. With my European features, speaking English with an American accent is key to being accepted as an American Not knowing my heritage language is like rejecting my culture; it's an embarrassment Discussion Obstacles and Hopes - The Role of Responsibilities, Time, Exposure, and Effort in Heritage Language Development for Themselves and Their Children Pressing Responsibilities interfere with opportunities to study and use my heritage language English is the common language for my spouse and me, so it's difficult to pass my native language on to my children My hope for my children is that early exposure to the language will plant a seed that will help them develop it more easily when they choose to pursue it Making the effort to develop and maintain the heritage language is as important as the result Discussion VI SUMMARY, METATHEME, IMPLICATIONS, AND FINAL REFLECTIONS Metatheme - The Centrality of Emotion in Language Use Discussion Speaking to My Profession Suggestions for Future Research Reflections on the Research Process 219 222 226 239 239 247 250 255 262 277 283 286 288 294 296 REFERENCES 305 APPENDICES 312 A RECRUITMENT NOTICE 312 B CONSENT TO Participate IN THE STUDY 313 C PARTICIPANT CATEGORIES 315 D SAMPLES OF TRANSCRIPTS 317 vii
  10. 10. CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION I sat in classrooms for two to three years without understanding what was being said, and cried while the girl next to me filled in my spelling book for. In music class...I wouldn't sing. In art class, I was so traumatized that I couldn't be creative....I went into a "survivor mode" and couldn't participate in activities. (Quan, 1990 p. 213) Arriving in the United States at the age of seven, with no English beyond the alphabet and a few basic words, Kit Yuen Quan (1990) describes what school was like for her. Eventually English replaced Chinese, and when she left home at age sixteen, Quan recalls her subsequent devastation at her native language loss: I felt like I had no family, no home, no identity or culture I could claim...I didn't even have the words to communicate what I felt. (p. 214) In contrast, she relates a completely different feeling she observed among the Cambodian children whom she tutored: They spoke only Cambodian with their family...English was used for school work and to talk to me... When they spoke to each other they were not alone or isolated...they were connected to each other through their language and their culture...in speaking their language they were able to love and comfort each other, (p. 217) As an adult, Quan began to study Chinese again and to reconnect with her family. She writes: I have had to create my own literacy program. I had to recognize that the school system failed to meet my needs as an immigrant...! have to let 1
  11. 11. myself grieve over the loss of my native language and all the years wasted in classrooms staring into space or dozing off when I was feeling depressed and hopeless, (p. 220) Similarly, in her discussion of the No-Cost Study investigating the language patterns of language minority children in preschools, Lily WongFillmore (1991) argues that native language loss contributes to academic difficulties for children and has a negative impact on other areas of their lives as well. She writes, "the consequences of losing a primary language are far reaching, and it does affect the social, emotional, cognitive, and educational development of language minority children" (p. 342). She further suggests that the negative effects of native language loss extend beyond the individual, "the loss of a primary language, particularly when it is the only language spoken by the parents, can be very costly to the children, their families, and to society as a whole" (p. 323). Some of the consequences of this loss are poignantly revealed in the stories documented by Sandra Kouritzin (1999) through interviews she conducted with adults identifying themselves as having experienced the loss of a childhood language. One participant described it this way, "I feel that I lost a part of my identity....I really feel that it's been a personal assault" (p. 47) and another, "Losing the language is like losing half the man you are" (p. 71). In describing communication with parents, "When I spoke to my parents, we spoke in English and that was it. They communicated what they could, but I'm sure they never really understood what we were trying to say" (p. 93). The participants frequently 2
  12. 12. reported having difficulty in English and feeling anxiety because of it, but acknowledged that English was their strongest language. Some expressed regret at having lost a marketable skill. As one participant put it, "I just see it as a freebie. I missed out on a freebie and now I have to pay for it" (p. 177). Efforts to address the educational needs of language minority children in the United States tend to focus on English. These children's native languages are often considered problems to be overcome rather than resources to be developed (Freeman, 1999). Stories such as Kit Yuen Quan's and those documented by Lily Wong-Fillmore (1991 and 2000) and Sandra Kouritzin (1999) suggest damaging outcomes from this practice and provoke further questions. As an elementary ESL teacher, my experience with the children at school was: the stronger the first language, the stronger the second. While it may seem contrary to common sense (shouldn't more English produce more English?), Jim Cummins (1987, 1992, 1996, 2000) explains this seemingly contradictory situation by suggesting that a common underlying proficiency develops as children learn, which is available across languages. The concepts one develops in the native language are potentially available in the second, given adequate exposure and motivation to learn the second language. Simply put, if you learn about a concept in your first language, you don't need to relearn the concept in the second. You merely need some new vocabulary. Stephen Krashen (1996) illustrates this idea with his "Paris Argument." He says to imagine you have taken a job in Paris, and that you speak no French, or maybe you studied it for a little 3
  13. 13. while several years ago. How much easier it would be to learn French if you have information in English about how to find a place to live, where to shop, information about the place where you work and the routines observed there. The background information in English makes the input you will receive in French more comprehensible. Numerous studies, among them Chaswick (1991); Gardner, Polyzoi & Rampaul (1996); Ramos & Krashen (1997) found this positive relationship between first and second language development (cited in Krashen, 1999). Given the research supporting the positive role of the first language in facilitating English development and in promoting academic achievement, the focus on English, and English only, that appears to be increasing in our schools seems counter-productive. Further, as Quan (1990), Wong-Fillmore (1991, 2000), and Kouritzin (1999) have indicated, first language loss, "which may refer to lack of first language development, delayed first language development, or a progressive loss of previously-acquired language ability (Verhoeen & Boeschoten, 1986)" (Kouritzin, p.l 1), appears to have potentially damaging consequences. Studies of heritage language development efforts (Cho 2000,2004; Tse 2000, 2001a, 2001b) offer support for the potential benefits of developing both the immigrant language and English and reveal some of the challenges involved. While there has been considerable research on the linguistic aspects of first language loss, Kouritzin's is one of the first studies to investigate the issue as 4
  14. 14. it concerns the whole person - his/her educational, emotional, and family experiences. An in-depth understanding of this experience is vital in order for policy-makers, parents, and teachers to make informed decisions regarding effective educational services for children who are learning English as an additional language. Each story contributes to this understanding - adding perspectives, strengthening the images, refining focus, to provide a clearer more complete picture. This study is an attempt to continue the work Kouritzin, Tse, WongFillmore and others have begun by documenting the language stories of a group of five Americans who identified themselves as having experienced limited development or loss of skills in their native languages when they learned English as a second language. Their stories add insight into the question: How do people who learn English as a second language in childhood, with English becoming their dominant language, describe their language learning experiences? Sub-questions include: How do people describe their experiences learning English? How do they describe their proficiency in the native language? What is the role of the native language in their lives? What do they report influences their language use and language proficiency? What are their plans and hopes for their children regarding language? 5
  15. 15. ! CHAPTER II RELATED LITERATURE A review of the literature on first language loss inevitably involves a variety of issues related to bi/multilingualism. The way that societal attitudes toward language diversity and immigration interact with education policies and legislation, directly impacts the likelihood of maintaining or losing the first language for individuals and communities. The connections between language, culture, and identity, along with research into the cognitive and linguistic aspects of bilingualism and first language attrition all enter into the discussion, as do the insights from the study of heritage language development. An abbreviated overview is presented here as a backdrop for the current investigation of the individual experience of first language loss. Attitudes, Policies, and Bilingualism Despite the English-only rhetoric in the United States which portrays monolingualism as desirable and necessary, in the rest of the world, bilingualism and even multilingualism are the norm (Baker, 2000; Lessow-Hurley, 2000; Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000). One particularly impressive example is provided by 6
  16. 16. Candelaria-Greene (1996) in her description of the situation in Kenya, in which multilingualism is expected and routinely achieved. After approximately four years in school, the special education students in her study demonstrated proficiency in at least three languages (family/tribal language, Kiswahili, and English) comparable to the English proficiency of native speakers in the U.S. who were identified as having similar special needs. A look at U.S. history reveals that bilingualism and bilingual education are not recent developments there either, and in fact, both have been in existence since the nation began (Freeman, 1999; Lessow-Hurley, 2000). The writers of the Constitution did not declare an official language, and throughout the 1800s, state laws guaranteed bilingual education and bilingual publications (Freeman 1999). At various times throughout the 19* century, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, German, French, Dutch, Polish, Czech, Italian, and Spanish communities all operated schools in languages other than English, or bilingually (Kloss, 1977 as cited in Crawford, 2000). During this same period, the Cherokee achieved levels of biliteracy (in English and Cherokee) that were higher than the English literacy rates of whites in Texas and Arkansas (Freeman, 1999; Lessow-Hurley, 2000). As efforts to dominate Native Americans intensified, the Cherokee printing press was confiscated, children were removed from their homes, and forced to attend schools where the Cherokee language was prohibited. The climate for European and Asian immigrants also changed toward the end of the 19th century. Laws restricted Chinese and Japanese immigration. A 7
  17. 17. wave of xenophobia ensued, focusing largely on the Germans, whose large numbers made them highly noticeable (Freeman, 1999). The start of World War I intensified anti-German sentiment and anti-immigrant sentiment in general (Crawford, 2000; Lessow-Hurley, 2000). The English language became associated with patriotism and other languages were viewed as anti-American. Pressure to assimilate was intense, with some states passing legislation banning the use of languages other than English for instruction (Crawford, 2000; Freeman, 1999; Lessow-Hurley, 2000). This climate, along with severe restrictions on immigration dramatically promoted the dominance of English. Freeman (1999) writes, "...a linguistically diverse United States became a largely monolingual country over the course of one generation" (p.33). This period of disregard for languages other than English continued until the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement sparked consideration of Englishonly practices as a potential violation of equal rights (Crawford 2000, Freeman, 1999). With the conservative backlash and renewed anti-immigration sentiment in the 1980s, the tide turned again. While Congress continually renewed the Bilingual Education Act, the number of checks by the Office of Civil Rights for compliance decreased drastically (Crawford, 2000). And programs that stressed a quick transition to English or English-only instruction received the majority of funds. The 1990s produced competing attitudes towards bilingualism and bilingual education. Congress again renewed the Bilingual Education Act in 1994, 8
  18. 18. even adding the preservation of the child's native language as a desired goal, however enforcement and funding for native language maintenance were almost non-existent (Crawford, 2000). Legislation banning bilingual education passed in several states. At the same time, there was a dramatic increase in two-way bilingual programs, also called dual language immersion, which instruct native English-speakers and language minority students in both English and the minority language. Public opinion regarding bilingualism and bilingual education has seemed to ebb and flow, and at times storm depending on the political and economic situation, and how useful or threatening new immigrants and Native Americans were perceived to be (Freeman, 1999; Lessow-Hurley, 2000). A contributing factor to the contradictory currents of public opinion is the popular press. In their examination of the relationship between findings of published research and the opinions regarding bilingualism and bilingual education that were presented in newspaper and magazine articles from 19841994), McQuillan & Tse (1996) found a discrepancy between the results of academic research and the viewpoints presented in newspaper and magazine articles. While 86% of studies in their ERIC search reported results favorable to bilingual education, only 45% of the persuasive media pieces could be classified as favorable. Furthermore, less than half of the newspaper and magazine articles supported their opinions with social science research. Crawford's discussion of the media coverage involving bilingual education, Ron Unz and Proposition 227 (1998 presentation, published in Crawford 2008) revealed a similar situation. 9
  19. 19. Journalists viewed it as a political story, rather than an education or science story. They tended to focus on sound bites that provided a more dramatic article; the results of educational research were more complex and not nearly as readerfriendly. Research that brings a human face to issues of language is necessary to bridge this gap between research and public opinion. Currently, and throughout its history, policies and practices regarding language in the United States often reflect emotional responses to the political situation at the time. Rarely does the problem of native language loss enter into the discussion (Tse, 2001). An understanding of this experience in human terms is essential so that we can move beyond assumptions and make informed decisions about issues affecting English language learners. Language Attrition. Language Loss, and Language Shift Language attrition, language loss, and language shift are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably in the literature. Language loss can refer to the loss of the language ability at the group level, across generations (Kouritzin, 1999; Tse, 2001; Wong-Fillmore, 1991), or for an individual (Anderson, 1999, 2006; Kouritzin, 1999; Wong-Fillmore, 2000). Language attrition is the linguistic term for the loss of language skills by an individual (Seliger & Vago, 1988; Yagmur, De Bot & Korzilius 1999). Van Els (1986, cited in Jamshidiha & Marefat, 2006) designated several categories to specify the type of loss: LI loss in an LI environment (e.g., aphasia, aging, dialect loss) 10
  20. 20. LI loss in an L2 environment (e.g., loss of native languages by immigrants) L2 loss in an LI environment (e.g. loss of a foreign language) L2 loss in an L2 environment (e.g., loss of L2 by elderly immigrants) First language attrition in an L2 environment, including limited development of the first language, is the situation addressed in this study. Research on first language attrition has typically focused on the specific changes that occur in the language. The interest of this study relates more to the overall personal experience. As Kouritzin (1999) did, I have chosen to use the more general term language loss. To more accurately reflect the situations described, I frequently refer to the experience as loss in the native or heritage language. I use the terms first language, native language, immigrant language and heritage language interchangeably to refer to the non-English languages used by immigrant families. Language shift refers to a change in language use (Fishman 1991; Grosjean, 1982; Tse, 2001c; Zhang 2004) in which a group or individual begins to use another language with more frequency and reduces the uses of the previous language, typically shifting from minority language use to majority language use. Migration, immigration, and political changes are situations that can promote this shift. The shift can be accompanied by language loss, usually across generations. Language shift in immigration situations in the United States is welldocumented (Fishman, 1991; Grosjean 1982; Portes & Hao, 1998; Tse, 2001c; Wong Filmore 1991, 2000). Initially, the immigrants are monolingual in the LI. 11
  21. 21. Depending on the community situation, among other factors, they achieve varying degrees of bilingualism. Their children may be bilingual, but the next generation is likely to be monolingual in English. There is evidence that this shift is happening even more rapidly today (Portes & Hao, 1998) even within an individual lifetime (Wong-Fillmore, 2000). How likely is language shift in young children? Wong-Fillmore's (1991) often cited large-scale study revealed this trend in preschool children to be widespread in California, much to the surprise and dismay of the parents. Cummins' (1991, in Cummins 1996) longitudinal study of 20 children in Toronto documented the rapid shift from Portuguese to English as children went from junior kindergarten at age four, to first grade. Although parents continued to speak Portuguese to their children, interviews and tapes of home language use revealed that children were increasingly English dominant. By the end of grade one, only two children were still more proficient in Portuguese and three demonstrated equal proficiency in English and Portuguese. The rest were English dominant. Consistent with theories of the positive influence of the LI on L2 development, those children who were maintaining their Portuguese also had developed stronger reading skills in English. Subsequent studies have supported these findings among older children as well (Hinton, 1999, Portes & Hao 1998, Tse 2001c). Portes & Hao's 1998 study involving over 5,000 children of immigrants found few that considered themselves fluent in their native language by the time they reached middle school. 12
  22. 22. In the article, Separated by a Wall of Words, published April 10,2001 in the Washington Post, Rumbaut also indicates that language shift is happening at a more rapid rate in the United States than previously, "We are seeing this country become a language graveyard for the second generation, with children and parents living under the same roof but unable to talk to one another." In a 1991 survey he conducted, he found that although 94% of the parents spoke another language at home, 73% of children identified English as their primary language by the time they were in seventh grade. In 1995, the percentage of English dominant children had risen to 88%, while the number of parents speaking another language remained essentially the same. Eilers, Zurer Pearson, & Cobo-Lewis (2006) reported that in Miami where Spanish is assumed to occupy a very strong presence, even children in two-way bilingual programs were showing evidence of weakness in Spanish by the time they reached the fifth grade. They concluded that both school and home support for Spanish was necessary in order to continued Spanish development and avoid loss in Spanish Their findings also revealed that less Spanish did not produce more English. Reese & Goldenberg (2006) found a similar vulnerability for Spanish in the two communities they studied, despite the presence of developmental and two-way bilingual programs. The schools offered positive support for Spanish, but the messages of the relative prestige accorded Spanish and English out in the 13
  23. 23. world were reflected in the students' preference for English and the erosion of Spanish skills noticed by their parents. Kaufman & Aronhoff (1991) followed the process of language attrition in one child, a native speaker of Hebrew, as she became exposed to English in preschool at age two and a half. The parents continued to speak Hebrew at home, but signs of attrition began within three months. Less than a year later, attrition was accompanied by a change in attitude as well, as the child began exhibiting reluctance to speak Hebrew. As Olshtain & Barclay (1991) found, language attrition can also take place among adults in a situation where the native language occupies a position of value, even prestige. Their study involving 15 adult native speakers of English living in Israel, revealed evidence of lexical retrieval difficulties, despite the fact that they all identified English as their dominant language. Most had acquired only enough Hebrew "to fulfill utilitarian needs" (p. 139). They varied in age from 25-55, had lived in Israel between eight and twenty-five years, and had developed full competency in English before coming to Israel. Their performance on a storytelling task and interview was compared to that of a group of English speakers in the United States. The U.S. group exhibited none of the difficulties demonstrated by the English-speakers in Israel. The participants were quite aware of their difficulties and expressed frustration that they were unable to remember certain words. Olshtain & Barzilay found the results to be particularly noteworthy since this situation would be considered one of the least conducive to attrition. 14
  24. 24. Yagmar, De Bot, & Korzilius (1999) documented language shift and attrition among speakers of Turkish, who had immigrated as adults to Australia. Their results indicated a role for the status of the language in language attrition and shift, but specifically how the attitudes influenced language maintenance and loss could not be determined. Clearly, native languages are vulnerable, and in a variety of situations. Studies on the psycholinguistic aspects of LI loss have focused on what happens to the language itself. Studies on the sociolinguistic aspects have looked at describing the phenomenon at the group level. What happens to the individuals who experience it is the focus of this study. Benefits of Bilingualism Since Peal & Lambert's classic 1962 study documenting cognitive advantages for bilinguals, numerous studies have found similar results (Baker, 1993; Bialystok, 1991, Cummins & Swain, 1996; Diaz, 1993; Hakuta, 1986, 1990; Hamers & Blanc, 1989; Homel, Palij, & Aronson, 1987; all cited in Ovando & Collier 1998). These studies considered "measures of cognitive flexibility, linguistic and metalinguistic abilities, concept formation, divergent thinking, and creativity" (Ovando & Collier, 1998, p.256). In discussing many of these findings, along with those of others (Diaz, 1986; Goncz & Kodzopeljic, 1991; Hakuta & Diaz, 1985; Mohanty, 1994; Ricciardelli, 1989,1992), Cummins (1996, 2000) emphasizes that the children who demonstrated these advantages had developed 15
  25. 25. high levels of proficiency in both the LI and L2. He suggests that a minimum threshold of LI proficiency is required to both avoid the negative effects of subtractive bilingualism and to enjoy the benefits of additive bilingualism. In order for this additive bilingualism to occur, support for the minority LI must be substantial enough to counteract the dominance of the societal language (Landry & Allard, 1991, in Cummins 1996). The knowledge of more than one language offers practical advantages as well, both to the individual and to society as a whole (Carreira & Armengol, 2001; Krashen, 1998). There is a need for skills in languages other than English in business, government, media and communications, law enforcement, health care, education, and the performing arts. In terms of academic achievement, results from studies of bilingual education indicate the benefits of the continued development of both the heritage language and English (Greene, 1998 in Krashen, 1999; Ramirez, 1992). In investigating the reasons for school drop out, Isidro Lucas' study (1991, in Cummins 1996) revealed that English proficiency was not the issue for Puerto Rican high school students in his study. None of the dropouts identified English as a reason for dropping out. Nor was abandoning Spanish a characteristic of those who remained in school. In fact, they maintained greater confidence in their LI than the dropouts did. As Lucas describes it: All my dropout respondents spoke good understandable English. They hadn't learned math, or social sciences, or natural sciences, unfortunately. But they had learned English....No dropout mentioned lack of English as the reason for quitting. As it evolved through questionnaires and 16
  26. 26. interviews, theirs was a subtle story of alienation, of not belonging, of being 'push-outs'...dropouts expressed more confidence in their ability to speak English than stay-ins...stay-ins showed more confidence in their Spanish than did drop-outs....I had to conclude that identity, expressed in one's confidence and acceptance of the native culture, was more a determinant of school stay-in power than the mere acquisition of the coding-decoding skills involved in a different language, English" (p. 19) Connections Between LI, Identity, Culture and Family The connection between language and identity, mentioned by Isidro Lucas, appears repeatedly throughout the literature. Skutnabb-Kangas (2000) describes the continuum of opinions regarding the role of language with some scholars viewing it as a tool or commodity, nothing more, and others seeing a much more personal connection. Skutnabb-Kangas acknowledges the instrumental aspect of language, but adds, "Language is a tie and our mother tongues both form and are symbols of our identity.... conceptualizing the world in childhood mainly happens through the mother tongue" (p. 104-105). Bonny Norton (1997, 2000) describes a similar role for language in one's evolving sense of self, "every time language learners speak, they are not only exchanging information...they are engaged in identity construction and negotiation (p.410). Joshua Fishman (1991) writes, "The destruction of a language is the destruction of a rooted identity" (p.4). Lucy Tse's (1998) proposes a model of ethnic identity development that consists of four stage experienced by ethnic minorities: 1) Unawareness, 2) Ethnic Ambivalence/Evasion, 3) Ethnic Emergence, and 4) Ethnic Identity Incorporation. 17
  27. 27. In the first stage, there is an unawareness of belonging to a minority culture. This stage typically occurs early in childhood, particularly with those living in ethnic enclaves and isolated from exposure to the dominant group, or with those who have the opposite situation, in which there is relatively little acknowledgement of the ethnic minority culture and language. The second stage is characterized by the desire to identify with the dominant culture, along with the presence of less positive feelings, ranging from disinterest to rejection, for the heritage culture. In Stage 3, there is a renewed interest in the heritage culture, as minority group members find that acceptance into the dominant group is not really possible or is problematic in some way. They question who they are and where they fit in; some respond by rejecting the dominant group entirely. During the last stage, Ethnic Identity Incorporation, there is a resolution to the conflict as they begin to identify with the "ethnic American group", who share many of the same experiences and have gone through a similar process. Some in this stage may arrive at a new interpretation of what it means to be "an American". Agnes Weiyun He (2006) proposes an identity theory of Chinese heritage language development consisting often hypotheses that predict success in development of the language based on identity-related attitudes. Although the theory is designed to reflect the characteristics of Chinese heritage language development, it appears to apply in similar ways to other languages and cultures too. The hypotheses describe motivation to develop the language as influenced by identity related issues such as the feeling of rootedness, the ease with which the 18
  28. 28. learner moves among different roles in different communities, perceptions of the status of the language, and the way the language appears in family interactions. Support for this connection between language and identity appears throughout the emerging literature on heritage language development (Cho, 2000; Cho & Krashen, 1998; Guardado, 2002; Lee, 2002; Li, 2006; Tse, 2000, 2001). In Hae-Young Kim's (2003) study with Korean heritage learners, a recurring theme in their reasons for studying Korean was the connection between the heritage language and self-discovery, "language learning as a journey to find out who they are" (p.8). Part of that discovery also involved the desire to know more about their parents. Wong-Fillmore (1991, 2000) contends that language loss comes with damaging consequences for the children and their families. Generational conflicts, loss of family connections, self-esteem, and academic difficulties were among the problems she found related to this form of subtractive bilingualism. Cho (2004) also found disadvantages in family relationships associated with weak heritage language skills. They expressed frustration and indicate that conversations are cut short or kept to a surface level because communication is so difficult. The desire to establish stronger relationships with family members in turn contributed to the motivation to try to improve their heritage language skills. Personal accounts of those who have experienced native language loss consistently confirm the connection between language and identity, culture, and family relationships, whether or not they view the maintenance of the mother 19
  29. 29. tongue as beneficial. Richard Rodriguez (1982) provides some of the most powerful descriptions of the cost to his family when Spanish was replaced with English in his home: ...as we children learned more and more English, we shared fewer and fewer words with our parents. Sentences needed to be spoken slowly when a child addressed his mother or father. (Often the parent wouldn't understand.) The child would need to repeat himself. (Still the parent misunderstood.) The young voice, frustrated, would end up saying, 'Never mind' - the subject was closed. Dinners would be noisy with the clinking of knives and forks against dishes, (p.23) He viewed this change as sad, but necessary, given the situation in the United States. If one wanted to succeed, one had to pay the price. Others describe a similar experience, with a very different reaction to the loss. Marainen's (1988) provides an account of a conversation he had with his father on their way home from a lecture he had given on the Sami. He had given the lecture in Swedish, his L2, a language his father did not understand well. As he went to translate what he had said for his father, he was shocked to find he was no longer able to do so: I realized in horror that / could no longer relate the most common and everyday matters in my own language! ... I could no longer talk to Father! ... I became desperate, despondent and then I became angry....I had been robbed of my own language, my own history and my own culture. What was foreign to me was I, myself....I realized that the first thing I had to do was to study my own language....I had to find my way to my Sami identity... (pp. 183-184). The intensity of the connection between language, identity, and culture is vividly expressed throughout the interviews in Kouritzin's study (1999). In discussing her loss of Finnish, one woman said: 20
  30. 30. I think, having lost my language, I, in essence, lost a lot of my culture....If I'd kept it, I think I would have kept a sense of myself, my own identity, much more....I suppose there's a certain death of self when you lose your mother tongue, as well, that perhaps you don't ever get back, don't ever find....don't ever resurrect (p.96). Similar strong connections are expressed among the other participants. The instrumental value of the language, the knowledge of the native language as a marketable skill, was more common among younger participants. Those who were older and/or had experienced the loss of a parent tended to emphasize the personal connection to their language. All of her participants commented on the lessened communication with family members after experiencing native language loss. Complicity and Native Language Loss Feelings of responsibility and guilt frequently surface in the stories of those who have experienced native language loss (Kouritzin, 1999), as if they feel they should have resisted somehow, at the same time recognizing that it wasn't their choice. As one participant put it, "I'm glad now that I can make amends, compensate in some way, and make sure that my students maintain their languages....I feel guilty that I turned my back on my own culture, not by choice, but by circumstances" (pp. 48-49). Kouritzin also found that participants frequently attributed the loss to their own inadequacy, assuming that the reason for the loss was in part because of below average intelligence on their part. 21
  31. 31. Even Richard Rodriguez (1982) admits a certain need to rationalize the loss. While criticizing movements such as bilingual education and other efforts to maintain the native language and culture, he advises the reader to beware. He acknowledges needing "to justify my own change" (p. 160). He explains: My relationship to many of the self-proclaimed Chicano students was not an easy one. I felt threatened by them....I envied them their fluent Spanish. (I had taken Spanish in high school with gringos.)....I had been submissive, willing to mimic my teachers, willing to re-form myself in order to become 'educated'. They were proud, claiming that they didn't need to change by becoming students. I had long before accepted the fact that education exacted a great price for its equally great benefits. They denied that price - any loss. (p. 160) So this study attempts to find out more about this loss, this price that has been paid. How do others who have experienced it describe it, reflect on it? What advice would they offer? What do they wish had been different and what would they want to be the same? What commonalities are there in the experiences, both among participants in this study and in comparison to those described in Kouritzin's and Wong-Fillmore's work? What new information might the experiences of these participants provide? Each story contributes to a clearer picture of native language development, maintenance, and loss for English language learners. The better and more confident our understanding of the issue, the more effective we can be in making decisions to benefit language minority children. 22
  32. 32. CHAPTER III RESEARCH METHODS Since the intent of this study was to learn about individual experiences with language learning and loss, and the meaning of those experiences for the person, a qualitative interview approach was most appropriate. Qualitative research methods are designed to provide an in-depth exploration of a phenomenon, experience, or situation (Bogdan & Biklin, 1998; Creswell, 1998; Ely et. al, 1991). They are suited to holistic investigations concerned with describing a process and context in its complexity. Qualitative interviews are often used when the intent is to document the feelings and experiences of the participants in order to better understand a topic from the participants' points of view. Qualitative techniques are most appropriate to communicate to others the meaning of an experience for the participants involved (Creswell, 1998; Ely et. al, 1991; Mariano, 1998; Munhall & Boyd, 1993). Participants I was interested in finding participants who were adults living in the United States, who had learned English as an additional language as children, described themselves as having experienced loss in a first language (including 23
  33. 33. those with limited development of a first language), and now considered themselves to be dominant in English. The criterion for language loss was selfidentification, not a test or other external criteria to measure proficiency. Since the purpose of this study was to understand the experience from the participants' points of view, their perception of their language facility was the most appropriate means of identification (Kouritzin, 1999). Socioeconomic status, age, gender, number of years in the United States were all left open, as Kouritzin (1999) did in her study, in order to collect a variety of perspectives. Similarly, the number of participants was not predetermined, since the focus of the study was an in-depth exploration of each person's experience, not a survey of a specific number of people. All of the participants were informed, both verbally and in writing, of the purpose of the study. They were assured that their confidentiality would be protected and that they were free to withdraw from the study at any time. The first interview session for each participant began by clarifying any questions about the study, and then the consent forms (Appendix B) were signed. Participant Selection: Joseph, Nari, Ella, and William As I thought about where to recruit participants to interview, I kept remembering a comment made by one of the participants in Sandra Kouritzin's study (1999). He told her he would not have been able to participate in her research study if he had not regained his language, because it was only after 24
  34. 34. regaining it, that he realized what he had lost. I decided a heritage language school might be a promising place to start. I had previously read an article in a local newspaper about a Chinese heritage language school, which was not far from where I live, and planned to contact them. By chance, I happened to meet the assistant director, Lena Hsu (a pseudonym; all names for people and places included in this study are pseudonyms), in an office of a local college. She was interviewing for a part-time position teaching Chinese, and I was looking over materials for an adult ESL class I was teaching. When we were introduced, I told her I had read about her school in the newspaper, and I explained my interest in first language loss and maintenance. She seemed pleased with my interest, gave me her card, and invited me to visit the school. I contacted her about a month later and arranged to come the following Sunday to distribute my recruitment notices (Appendix A). The following description of entree into the field where I met my first four participants is taken from my field log and presented as a story in the present tense. The Chinese Heritage Language School The school is easy to find; it's convenient to several major roadways, and there is a sign on the front lawn that prominently displays its name. On Sunday mornings, the ample parking lot is usually about two thirds full. There is a larger building in front that looks like a well-maintained office building, and on the hill 25
  35. 35. behind it, there is a smaller two-story white house that reminds me of a country school. The office, the lounge, and most of the classrooms are in the larger building. Most of my time is spent there as well. Only one interview takes place in the little house on the hill. A uniformed security guard greets and offers assistance to visitors as they enter the larger building. He is Caucasian, of imposing size, but friendly demeanor. As I walk through the entry way on this first day, the cheerful sound of children's voices fills the halls. Adults talking and laughing over coffee and donuts can be heard in the lounge. The atmosphere seems warm and comfortable; it has the feel of a community center on a busy Saturday. And it is that way every Sunday morning that I visit. The security guard shows me to the office where I wait for Lena to finish talking with a Caucasian couple. The office is a sunny room with windows on two sides. There are four desks, each filled with papers, books, organizers, and other office equipment. A row of computers and printers lines one wall. Colorful decorations hang from the ceiling, and posters in Chinese are displayed on the walls. Lena calls a greeting to me and tells me to have a seat. I sit down at a chair by the computer wall. As the couple is leaving, she introduces them to me and mentions that the school also has some Caucasian students. Would I be interested in talking with any of them for my study? I explain that I need people who have experienced some loss of their first language. "Oh," she said. "No then." Clearly, first language loss is something not associated with Caucasians. 26
  36. 36. The director, who has been bustling in and out of the office, on the phone, talking with what appear to be parents, teachers, and other staff as I wait for Lena, comes back in the office with an apparent free moment. Lena introduces me. Dr. Lien has an efficient, business-like, but accommodating demeanor. She leads me down the hall to the lounge, which is brimming with activity and noise. Parents are sitting at cafeteria tables, chatting over coffee and Dunkin Donuts while children play. Dr. Lien raises her voice to be heard and introduces me, saying that I am from a local college and doing a project. She turns to me, "I'll let you explain it." The people closest to me are the only ones with a chance of hearing. I smile and explain that I'm also a student at NYU. I tell them that I am working on a study and wonder if some of them would be interested in participating. I get out my bright pink recruitment notices and start passing them around. Several people pick up the notices and start reading. Others go back to their conversations. A group of three people closest to me start asking me questions about it. A few more, farther down the table appear to be answering the eligibility questions. A glance tells me that one person has answered them all "yes". I start to feel hopeful. One woman to my right, Nari, says she's not sure if she fits or not because she doesn't remember which language she learned first, English or Korean. She really learned them at the same time. But she says she definitely feels more confident in English than Korean. I tell her that yes, she would fit. 27
  37. 37. The man across from me, Joseph, says he would be interested, although he does still speak and read Chinese. He appears to be in his 40's and talks about how you really have to work at it to maintain the language. He says you'll realize suddenly that you're searching for words. He tells me that he went to one of the same colleges I did. He first got a degree in architecture and then got his master's in public service. He would like to get a doctorate, but it's difficult to arrange while he's working full-time. We discuss the commute to various colleges and the work load. He talks about reading classics in Chinese to develop his Chinese more, beyond just newspapers and magazines. I get the feeling that he could start the interview right away. Joseph mentions that there are other schools and asks how many people I need. Do I have a questionnaire? As I get out the consent forms which provide details of participation in the study (Appendix B), I explain that it's a series of interviews. I tell them I can leave the information with them and they can take it home and decide if they'd like to participate. Another woman, Ella, joins us and says that she would definitely qualify. She says that reading and writing are really difficult for her. Nari agrees and comments she reads at about a first grade level. They seem very interested in participating and don't really need to think about it. We discuss places to meet for the interviews, and they suggest just doing them at the school. "We're always here on Sundays. You can just come here. You could probably do several of us at once." 28
  38. 38. "Besides," Ella continues, "I'm from Connecticut. It would just be easier to meet here." I explain that multiple interviews are necessary. The looks on their faces tell me that they're amazed that I would need more than one interview, but they seem willing to go along. I notice a woman on my left has answered yes to the three questions on my recruitment notice. She is busy running after a 2-3 year-old child and I don't get a chance to talk with her. Ella, Joseph, and Nari recommend that I also talk to a man sitting farther down the bench. William has a child on his lap and another sitting next to him. On the other side is a woman who I assume is his wife. I show him the notice and explain that his friends thought he might be interested. He asks about data collection and if there is a questionnaire. I explain that it's an interview study. "Oh, so just our stories," he answers. "Sure, if my wife is here to take care of them," he says, referring to the children. "Otherwise, it won't work." The children are very active, and it's obvious that talking for any length of time with them around would be too distracting. I thank them and tell them I'll see them next Sunday. I go to the office and thank Lena. She asks if I found any people to interview. I answer that I did, and I'll come back the following week. She shows me the restroom and indicates the cafeteria down the hall. If you want something to eat, go ahead. She asks how the 29
  39. 39. classes at the college are going and adds, "Maybe we can collaborate on something later on." I am impressed by the welcome and their willingness to share what they can to accommodate my study. Lena's comment about collaboration indicates that she may hope for some reciprocal professional assistance, but it's one that I would be quite happy to provide if I can. I couldn't have hoped for a more positive beginning to the recruitment process. Participant Selection - Pino I met Dino at a graduation party for the son of a friend and former colleague of mine. Renee and I taught in the same schools almost nine years before, but we live about 40 minutes apart, so we don't see each other often or share mutual friends (other than former colleagues). However, we have kept in touch, mostly by phone or e-mail. Renee frequently invites me to special family events. Dino and his wife, Teresa, live in Renee's neighborhood, and they are good friends. The following description details how we met and how Dino became involved in this study. After Rene's introduction, Dino and Teresa ask what the topic of my dissertation is. I explain that I am interested in people who learned English as a second language when they were children, then found that English became the stronger language, and they had experienced loss in their first language. Dino nods with kind of a surprised look and says, "That would be me." 30
  40. 40. "Really?" I feel my heart quicken. I was hoping for another participant, particularly someone of apparent European heritage. My own aversion to imposing on others and my worry about invading their privacy makes recruitment intimidating for me. While the experience of language loss is not that uncommon, determining where to recruit people and how to bring up the subject is not easy. There is nothing about Dino that would indicate that he might be a potential participant. He speaks with a Long Island-Bronx accent; there is no trace of anything to signal that he emigrated from another country. "Yeah, if I am understanding it correctly," Dino answers. "I came from Italy when I was a young kid and now I rarely speak Italian. Well, what we speak is a dialect." "But you still speak it with your mother," comments Teresa. "Do you need people who don't speak it at all anymore?" She asks, turning to me. "No, not necessarily," I answer. "It doesn't have to be complete loss. It's people who have experienced some loss in their first language, so that now they feel more confident in English. It's also people who maybe were learning both at the same time, but then English took over as the main language." "Well there's definitely some loss," Dino says, with kind of a wry humor in his voice. "Then you would fit!" I exclaim, trying to remember that this is a party and I should keep things conversational. It wouldn't be fair to monopolize his 31
  41. 41. time or take advantage of the social setting. We are interrupted at that point anyway, the conversation turns to other things for the rest of the party. A few weeks later, after getting Dino's phone number from Renee, I call to see if he would be interested in participating in the study. Teresa answers the phone and says that they are getting ready for company for the weekend, but she will give Dino the message, and he will call me back in the early part of the week. Wednesday night, the phone rings, and it's Dino. He asks me to remind him again about the type of participants I'm looking for. I give him the same explanation I did at the party. He recounts that he came from Italy when he was young and continued to speak his language with his mother but then learned English at school. School was all in English, except that he did have a chance to take Italian when he was taking classes on sabbatical as an adult. He asks what participation would entail. I explain that it is an interview study, so really it's just talking with me about his life, his experiences with languages, and also about his family, work, school, things like that. I go on to say that the idea is to get a view of the person's experience as a whole, which is why we would talk about his life experiences etc, in addition to language. He responds that it sounds interesting and he'd be glad to do it. He laughs a little self-consciously as he mentions not ever having the experience of telling someone his life story before. I laugh with him and acknowledge that it sounds a little daunting, but the idea is really just to get to know him, in order to get a better understanding of his experience. I assure him that everything is confidential 32
  42. 42. and pseudonyms will be used to protect his identity. We agree to meet on Thursday afternoon at 4:00 at his house. Data Collection The in-depth interview was the primary means of data collection. Consistent with the description provided by Ely et al. (1991), the structure of the interviews was shaped by the responses of the participants. Initially, questions were broad and open-ended, a starting point for participants to reflect on their experiences and communicate their thoughts in detail. More specific questions, emerging from the dialogue and on-going analysis, both during and after each interview were used to probe and clarify the information provided. In this way, the research was guided by those who have knowledge of the experience, the participants, and not limited by a set of predetermined questions. My intent in using this format was to assist the participants in telling their stories so that others may understand more fully the experience of heritage language loss for those who learn English as a second (or third) language in childhood. The open structure of the interviews was also useful in establishing and maintaining rapport. In interviewing Ella, for example, we talked quite a bit about her new job, which allowed her to become more comfortable with me, and allowed me to get to know her better. This contributed to our continued rapport and to my understanding of her responses. Joseph and I talked quite a bit about philosophy and history, areas he was passionate about and felt comfortable 33
  43. 43. discussing. These conversations led me to a fuller understanding of his experiences and perspectives. Often the participants would provide the information that I was interested in, without my asking the question. The topic would come up naturally, as part of our conversation. Interviews were both responsive to the comfort level of the participants and reflective of their need to discuss or avoid particular topics. Some stories were told and retold; some topics brought quiet responses, and some provoked animated discussion. The rate of speech, the tone and volume that accompanied the information shared, were all important in understanding and interpreting their stories. As indicated by Green, Franquiz, & Dixon (1997), both the participant and the interviewer bring their ideas about language (what silence means, intonation patterns, how emotions are expressed, eye contact, gestures) to the interaction. How the speaker makes use of these conventions and how they are understood by both interviewer and participant influence how they communicate during the interviews and how the communication is interpreted and transcribed (Roberts, 1997). Goldstein (1995) also found that if she wanted the participants to talk about experiences from their lives, it was helpful to share a little from her life. I tried to be sensitive to this possibility with my participants and to avoid what Igoa describes as the "dehumanizing" that occurs when a person becomes "the object of study" 1995, p.73). Notes relating to these issues were recorded in the field log, and in specific files detailing research issues that were specific to each participant. 34
  44. 44. We engaged in casual conversation as we got settled in a quiet spot to talk and set up the audiotape equipment (Bogdan & Biklin, 1998). This also helped me to get a feel for the conversational style of the participant (Goldstein, 1995). I often began the interviews by asking about something they had mentioned in our initial conversation about the study, such as "You mentioned you learned English and Korean at the same time..." or with a general question about their language experiences, "Would you tell me about your experiences with language when you were growing up?" In subsequent interviews, questions became more focused or asked for clarification and detail about a topic already mentioned. I incorporated participant checks into all interviews, regularly checking the accuracy of the information and getting feedback from the participants on my interpretations of what they had shared. There were from three-six interviews with each person, usually about an hour in length: Participant Name Number of Interviews Total Number of Minutes Joseph 5 360 Nari 3' 240 Ella 6 270 William 3 200 Dino 3 375 35
  45. 45. The length of the interviews varied according to the participants' comfort levels and time commitments. The total number of interviews and the amount of time spent interviewing each participant reflected the time required for sufficiency and redundancy of the information. I had originally intended to complete a series of interviews with one participant before starting to interview another, but some of my participants had other ideas about this process. The first four participants, recruited from the heritage language school, were clearly ready to be interviewed right away. I felt that insisting on completing a full series of interviews with one person before talking to anyone else would interfere with rapport, and I was afraid I might miss out on opportunities to talk with them. These were very busy people for whom time was already in limited supply. While Chinese School was in session, the interviews fit into their schedules easily. Once the summer started, getting together would be much more difficult for them. I compromised by interviewing just two participants, one after the other, each visit. Visits were at least one week apart, which gave me time to listen to the tapes of the interviews several times to decide on questions for the following interviews, and to transcribe and continue to analyze the tapes. I actually found this variation in the interviewing format much less overwhelming than I anticipated, perhaps because my schedule at that time allowed me to immerse myself in the interviewing process and devote all my < attention to it. I found that each story remained distinct from the others, and the 36
  46. 46. discussions from interviews with one participant were helpful in interviews with other participants. All participants were agreeable to my contacting them for future clarification and questions that might arise as I heard the stories of other participants and continued to revisit the transcripts of all the interviews. I also encouraged them to contact me with additional thoughts that that they might have. Field Log After each interview, I listened to the audiotape of the interview several times, making notes so that I could decide what I needed to find out in future interviews (Ely, 2001). Then I transcribed the interviews word for word. I read the transcripts over carefully, making notes and indicating possible categories in the margins. I also kept a log of each visit, where I recorded information about the recruitment sites, notes about informal interactions that took place before and after the interviews, basically anything that was not on tape. Pseudonyms were used in all discussions and representations of the data, including logs and transcripts. Data Analysis As suggested by Ely et al. (1998), analysis was ongoing; it began with the initial impressions recorded in my field log as I made contacts with potential participants, and continued as I transcribed and reviewed each interview. Possible 37
  47. 47. categories and subcategories, hunches, questions and thoughts were noted in the margins as I read the transcripts. Initially, all notes and categories reflected as accurately as possible my reaction and impressions as I read the content. No attempt was made at uniformity at this point, and no existing set of categories was applied. I shared the transcripts with my support group members, who in turn recorded their comments and reactions. I reviewed the transcripts again with their comments and made notes about the possible themes emerging there. Category Files and Theme Statements For each transcript, I made a category file, in which the category descriptions were revised and indicated on the left in bold, followed by the portion of the transcript that suggested the category. I also kept a Research Issues file for each participant, where I collected all of the Observer Comments (my notes as a researcher), notes about rapport, and anything pertaining to the research process itself: interruptions, time constraints, equipment issues, my mistakes, worries, improvements, and other reflections on the process. The category files were reviewed and the categories grouped together to form larger groups: LI Proficiency, Fitting In, LI and Identity, Learning English, Family Connections, Time, Children's Language, for example. I started with Nari's theme section, experimenting with different ways of physically organizing the categories into themes. I went through the files many times, making notes and lists of themes that they suggested. I tried actually cutting up the category files 38
  48. 48. and physically arranging and rearranging the pieces, which worked fine, except that it was cumbersome to keep track of all of the pieces of paper. I learned that creating new files of theme-related categories was easier to manage. Some categories were common to all participants, and a few were specific to a single participant's story. Lists of these categories appear in Appendix C. Trustworthiness Throughout the study, from initial contacts through the presentation of data, efforts to ensure trustworthiness have been, and continue to be, a constant priority (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998; Ely et al., 1991; Guba & Lincoln, 1989). Besides the conscious effort to maintain a trustworthy attitude, techniques to support me in this endeavor included the use of support groups, prolonged engagement, participant checks, and the practice of ongoing reflection, initiated in my written stance and continued in analytic memos. Support Groups I met with two support groups made up of fellow doctoral students in the School of Education, who were also conducting qualitative research studies. The members of the groups came from different programs within the School and different professional interests (occupational therapy, elementary education and math education). The diverse perspectives they brought with them assisted me in looking at my research from multiple points of view. I shared interview 39
  49. 49. transcripts, log entries, I-Stories, written theme discussions with them, as well as numerous verbal discussions to help me process my thoughts and reactions to the data and the research process. I also enlisted the help of a former colleague who is from Singapore and of Chinese heritage, and has been living and teaching in the United States over ten years. She had conducted a qualitative research study in my classroom when I was teaching ESL in the early 1990's. We have met regularly over the years at TESOL conventions and have continued our discussions relating to culture and language that began with her research. Her feedback added another valuable perspective to my analysis and presentation of the data. Prolonged Engagement Prolonged engagement (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998; Ely et al., 1991; Mariano, 1998) was necessary so that the data represented a more thorough picture of the experience being studied. Multiple interviews were conducted with each participant over a period of several weeks to be sure that the information collected was representative of their thoughts. The rapport so essential to qualitative research develops over time, particularly when the interviewer and the participants are from different cultures (Glesne, 1999). As previously mentioned, multiple interviews also allowed me to ask questions that occurred to me as I reviewed the tapes and transcripts, and to check my impressions with my participants (Anderson, Herr, Nihlen, 1994; Ely et al., 1991). Further, the participants also had the opportunity of reflection between interviews, offering 40
  50. 50. them the opportunity to clarify their thinking and assist me in understanding their experiences. Participant Checks In addition to prolonged engagement, I incorporated participant checks into all interviews. In some cases, I was clarifying my understanding of events and basic factual information. At other times, I would share my interpretations that were emerging from the interviews to get their opinions and reactions. Whether or not they agreed with my interpretations, their feedback was crucial to my understanding of their experiences. Socio-cuitural Issues Another important issue in maintaining trustworthiness for me was cultural/socioeconomic group membership. As a native-speaker of English and a member of what is loosely termed "the mainstream" in the United States (middleclass, white, and of apparent European ancestry) I was, as Bodgan & Biklen call it, "border crossing" (1998, p.83), to some extent. I was aware that my participants might view me as a member of the dominant culture, which could influence their responses or even their willingness to participate in the study. I anticipated that they might feel uncomfortable discussing the more personal aspects of these issues with an outsider, particularly if I were identified with a more powerful group. Establishing rapport and earning their trust was an essential 41
  51. 51. part of ensuring the credibility of the study. I also needed to come to terms with my own culture and history of privilege, as well as to acknowledge my assumptions and personal perspectives regarding language. I began this effort with my researcher's stance and continued with ongoing reflection and discussions with my committee and support group members. Researcher's Stance Those of us who love languages, especially if we have devoted our lives to learning or teaching them, find it hard to put ourselves in the right frame of mind to understand the concept of language diversity as a curse. We see in language a source of novel delights and subtle experience, a blessing. (Haugen, 1987, p.l; in Skuttnab-Kangas, 2000, p. 211) Haugen expresses the way I feel about languages. For me, studying another language was like opening a door and finding a place where I felt excitement and anticipation. It was magical. I started Spanish classes in seventh grade and couldn't wait to get to class each day. I was in awe of my teacher and others who could go back and forth from one language to the other with ease. I hoped/wished that I would be like that one day. As I learned more about Spanish, I also began to look at my native language, English, with new interest and understanding. I was fascinated by it: grammar, diagramming sentences, the subtle nuances of words and phrases, the variety of accents. I was hooked on language in general. My interest continued through high school and college. I also took German and a couple of Portuguese classes. Basically, whenever I had a spare spot in my schedule, I added a language. 42
  52. 52. Exactly why I was so fascinated with language is hard to say. As a young child, the only person in my family who spoke a language other than English was my grandfather. His mother tongue was Norwegian and he learned English after he went to school. He often told about his memory of his first day of school, when he came home and cried because he couldn't understand what they said. He always told it with a laugh, as he did with any number of stories about a problem that worked out okay. He became extremely proficient in English, admired for his speaking and writing ability. He also taught Latin and German - apparently he had an interest in languages as well. My grandfather did not, however, pass along his mother tongue to his children. He said there was no point in learning Norwegian, unless one lived in Norway. Occasionally he wrote a phrase in Norwegian on a Christmas card, sang a song in Norwegian or included it in a story he retold from childhood, but that was all. Despite its limited utilitarian value in the United States, he said his ability to speak and read Norwegian had stayed with him; he assumed because it was his mother tongue. So I had no model of first language loss. I have not felt a sense of loss because I did not learn to speak Norwegian. There was certainly no Norwegian community where I grew up. I was not in a situation in which I heard others speaking it and wished I could join in. English was and is my mother tongue. I would say it's more a feeling of disappointment that I did not learn to speak Norwegian. I see it as a missed opportunity, 43
  53. 53. something I would have enjoyed, like a precious heirloom passed down to each generation. My identification with the experience of language loss is more likely when I think about my L2, Spanish. It has slipped away more and more each year. After a summer in Mexico on a study program in college, the senora in my friend's house commented, "I can tell you're thinking in Spanish now. When you came you were still translating, but now you can really speak." I was thrilled. And now, 27 years later, I'm embarrassed at how much I have forgotten and angry with myself for letting it happen. I feel like I've been careless and lost a precious gift. Though my native language, English, was never threatened, I came to appreciate it when I was studying in Spain and Mexico. Most of the time, I was thrilled with the opportunity to speak Spanish and was disappointed when someone spoke to me in English. On the other hand, it was also exhausting to function in Spanish from morning till night, day after day. Despite having studied Spanish for years, the fact that it was my best subject, and that I was thoroughly enchanted by it, there were times when I needed to hear, read, and speak in English. I always remember this experience when I hear people insisting that second language learners in the United States need to be immersed in English and discouraged from using their native language. Needing one's mother tongue doesn't mean there is resistance to the second language. Among the ESL students I taught, I consistently found that the ones who were most successful in English 44
  54. 54. were the ones who had continued to develop their first languages. Welcoming the first language also helped for some students who seemed particularly homesick for their country and their language. Their eyes would light up, "I can write in Korean?" Somehow the idea that English was an addition and not a replacement made the situation more comfortable for them. They didn't have to give up who they were and what they knew; they could add English to it. On the other hand, for many, the idea that another language besides English was welcome at school was a hard sell. The pressure of English was all around and no amount of persuasion on my part could convince them that their language had a place here. Besides my attitudes about language, it is important to acknowledge how my social and cultural background could impact the study. Looking back as I write this stance, I realize that my life has been full of privilege and opportunity. Most of these advantages, I have learned about as an adult and am learning about them still. In my world, as a child and teenager, it was cool to be Catholic, Italian, Irish, or Jewish. I wasn't. I knew that being white kept me from all kinds of discrimination, but I remember being shocked, in a college class, to learn that WASPS were the dominant group. That certainly wasn't my experience! WASPS were boring. I had always taken comfort in being able to say that I wasn't all WASP. I was thrilled with the discovery, when one of my relatives investigated the family roots, that my heritage includes Native American ancestors. And yet I 45
  55. 55. know it's not really fair to claim it. I want the benefits, the image, without having paid the price. Despite apparent membership in the "dominant" culture, I frequently found mismatches between the school culture, the cultures in the community, and my family culture. The advantage I had was that my parents were able to explain this to me, and to help me figure out how to navigate among the differences. I refer to family culture because my culture is a mix of ethnicities, geographic influences and my parents' reactions to them. It can not be identified with a single ethnic group. I know that the differences I experienced were much more subtle than those of new immigrants, particularly those who are identified as more visible minorities. I was not obviously different. On the surface I seemed to belong. I have had enormous advantages because of this. On the other hand, I do remember what I felt (and still feel) as I try to respect my family culture and function in the world. There are commonalities in this experience that I found to be of help to me in understanding my participants. A large part of my privileged experiences came from socioeconomic advantages. Again, I was often unaware of those when I was young. My family didn't talk much about money. I just knew that we weren't poor. We didn't have a lot of the flashy things that many of my peers had, but if there was something that was really important to me, I could have it. I was also aware that my father turned down raises in his position as the director of a not-for-profit hospital because he said the hospital needed it more than we did. So I knew we were in a position to 46
  56. 56. turn money down. My parents also declined participation in socially prestigious organizations, like country clubs, saying, "That's just not us." But it's different to turn something down because you don't want it, than it is to be prevented from the opportunity. Whether I knew it or not, I had, for most of my life, a very easy road, well-paved, with lots of options and roadside assistance. As I began the study, I was very aware of the potential problem these privileges could present in my effort to conduct an effective study. I hoped that by acknowledging the obstacles and continuing to reflect on the ways my experiences both interfered and contributed to my rapport with my participants and how I heard their stories, I could turn the problem into a resource. In the course of conducting the research and dealing with new life events and financial responsibilities, the economic advantages I had once experienced became a distant memory. While difficult for me personally, this situation ironically helped to balance my frame of reference for the study. I also had an occasion to reconnect with Spanish for a job, and I was confronted with some of my feelings of loss and anxiety, offering added perspective on some of the feelings my participants expressed. In truth, listening to their stories helped me to make sense of my own experiences, in addition to providing insight into the research topic. 47
  57. 57. Presentation of the Data I- Stories After completing the interviews, I wrote an 1-Story for each person, in which the information the participant had given me about his/her life is presented in a unified story, told in the first person, as if the participant were the storyteller. I tried to preserve each person's conversational style and to tell the story in a way that allows each person's personality to come through. I decided to write the I-stories at this point in the analysis to maintain the essence of the story as a whole. I used the I-stories both as a tool for analysis and as a means of presenting the data. The process of writing the participant's story as if he/she were telling it, helped to clarify the essence of the thoughts and feelings expressed in the interviews. Following the work of Daphne Patai (1988), I have included excerpts of the interview transcripts presented as free verse, so that the reader may more closely "hear" the voices of the participants. The process of constructing these free verse poems involves listening to the tape and typing the excerpt of the transcript so that each pause starts a new line. Extraneous elements frequently found in conversation, such as "um" and "you know", that are distracting in print and do not contribute to the conversation as it was heard are deleted. On the other hand, the repetitions and false starts part-way through a word or sentence, which are part of the speaker's effort to communicate his/her ideas and feelings, allow the reader to experience the message as it was expressed. 48
  58. 58. Each person's story, along with an introduction that includes my reflections on the interview process we experienced, appears in Chapter IV, titled "Telling Their Stories". Themes and Discussion Each person's story is unique, with its own set of themes that reflect the specifics of that experience, and yet, there were themes that were common across participants. In the chapter titled, "Variations on a Theme - Common Threads", I discuss themes as they relate across participants, followed by a discussion of these themes in light of the related literature. As I did in Chapter IV, I have presented aspects of the transcripts in free verse (Patai 1988) to assist me in communicating the themes that I found in the experiences of the participants. 49
  59. 59. CHAPTER IV THE PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR STORIES This chapter presents the stories of the five research participants: Joseph, Nari, Ella, William, and Dino. Each story is preceded by a brief introduction, which provides the context of the interview situation from my perspective as the researcher. The stories are reconstructed from analysis of the interview data and told in the first person, as if the participant were the storyteller (Ely, 1997; Kouritzin, 1999). The resulting narratives are designed to provide the reader with a clear understanding of each person's story as it was revealed to me. Care was taken to preserve each participant's conversational style and allow his/her personality to come through. To further support this intention, following the work of Daphne Patai (1988), I have included excerpts of the interview transcript presented as free verse, so that the reader may get a better sense of the voices of the participants. Throughout the interviews, Joseph, Ella, William and Nari usually used the term Chinese rather than Cantonese, Taiwanese, or Mandarin, despite the fact that the differences between these dialects are greater than the differences between Spanish and French, for example. I have maintained this characteristic in presenting their stories. The specific dialect spoken by the participant is indicated 50
  60. 60. either in the introduction to the story or in the beginning of the story itself. The written form of the language is the same across all three dialects and refers to the traditional form, not the simplified form introduced in China during the 1950s. Interviewing Joseph Joseph was the first participant I interviewed. He had shown immediate interest when I introduced the study the previous week at the Chinese Heritage Language School. He told me that he does speak and read Chinese (Cantonese and some Mandarin) now, but that it takes a lot of work to maintain. He explained that he had experienced language loss previously, "What happens is that you're using English at school and at work, and then you go to speak Chinese and you'll suddenly realize that you're searching for words." (Logl, p.4). He talked about reading Chinese and working to improve on it. He told me about some of his educational goals, how he would really like to pursue a doctorate, but with the commuting time involved, it wouldn't fit into his schedule right now. I had the distinct impression we could have started the interview right then. When I walked into the lounge of the Chinese School for the first interview, Joseph was sitting at a table with his recruitment notice and consent form in a clear plastic folder in front of him and he seemed ready to talk on this day as well. He anticipated the need for a quiet space for taping and suggested we look for a room that was not in use. We usually talked in the gym, seated facing one another, on folding chairs that Joseph brought in from the hall. He always 51
  61. 61. reminded me of a host arranging things for his guest's comfort, as we set up. It made me feel welcome and lessened my concerns about imposing. Neatly dressed in slacks and a button down shirt, Joseph would sit, leaning forward somewhat, with a slightly rounded posture that didn't change much throughout the interviews. His demeanor gave the impression of a secure humility - modesty out of choice, not necessity. He seemed to have a genuine interest in the discussion, with no apparent desire to impress, and no defensiveness or self-consciousness either. There was a quiet assurance about him that put me at ease as well. I talked with Joseph five times over approximately two months, with each interview lasting between 30 minutes and 90 minutes. He talked readily, showing no reluctance or discomfort in relating the details of his life. However, he seemed to prefer to talk on an intellectual level, often bringing philosophy, history, and literature into the discussions. I worried at times that I was letting the interviews veer too far off topic. But I also knew I wanted to avoid being too directive, to give him the space to tell his story. I felt that the discussions on religion, philosophy, and history were also revealing who Joseph was. These topics are quite important to him and are therefore part of his story. He often used the second person "you" as he described an experience. I suspect it provided a distance that made talking more comfortable. As a listener, I found it pulled me into the experience, allowing me to feel as if I were living it too. The "you" also adds a more universal tone to the story, implying that Joseph considers his experience to be something with which others can identify as well. 52
  62. 62. Throughout the time I visited the Chinese School, Joseph would frequently ask how it was going and if I was finding out anything interesting. Joseph revealed his love of learning in every conversation, whether it was a taped interview or a casual meeting in the lounge. On one of my visits, I walked into the lounge and found Joseph reading a novel in Chinese. He seemed apologetic that it was a popular novel and not a classic or historical work. "This is relaxing relieves stress," he explained. He compared the author of that novel to Taylor Caldwell to help me understand the type of book it was. We talked about various authors and types of literature. Joseph mentioned that he was fond of historical fiction, especially things set in Roman times and went on to compare authors from the East and West, their different perspectives and the similarities they share. The conversation then turned to philosophy and psychology. He commented that he found psychology limited, because it ignores culture and loses the important questions by focusing on side issues. Philosophy, he explained, looks at the real overarching questions. Conversations with Joseph were rarely superficial. In addition to the information he provided for the study, I found it fascinating and quite inspiring to talk with him. What follows is Joseph's story, as analyzed and reconstructed from his interview data. Joseph's Story Actually, I emigrated from Hong Kong to New York City when I was 13.1 was born in China, in the south, so we spoke Cantonese mainly, not Mandarin. It was 53
  63. 63. my main dialect for 13 years. At the age of five, we moved to Macao and there it was the same dialect. Then a year after that, when I was six, we moved to Hong Kong. So that's the background, basically, 13 years of exposure to the mother tongue - Cantonese. During the school years in Hong Kong, I did pick up some English because I attended a parochial school, a Catholic school. It was run by Dominican priests, and actually, it was a good environment to learn a foreign language because we had to deal with some non-Chinese teachers, like the priests and some of the teachers from the Philippines. They didn't use Chinese, so we were kind of forced to use the English language. Of course it's just general exposure, not really in-depth. I was fortunate to go to a missionary school because we learned a little more English than the average student - although, English was still a second language, no doubt about it. At recess and at other times, we were glad to get out of English. It felt strange to us, so we kind of made fun of it. But we were forced into it in a sense; you know you have to improve your test scores to move on to the next grade. So we worked hard at it. But we were glad to get out of the English and go back to the Chinese history or Chinese literature. They used English to teach us math and science, so we had to understand that. It wasn't all just composition or literature. We also had dictation where the teacher read a paragraph and you had to know how to spell the words and understand the words basically. I think it was more intense than they learn Chinese here in America. Here it's kind of like enrichment. For us, it was necessary. We didn't look at it 54
  64. 64. like learning French or Spanish, like here. It wasn't just the language requirement that you will never use. We had to use English so we had to pay more attention to it. We started in first grade or kindergarten, and it continued all the way through; you don't expect to get out in three years, you expect to use it your whole career basically. But actually, I did enjoy the English literature too. I remember the mythology, you know, there were interesting stories. Sometimes we had role plays or drama activities to motivate the students. You act the role, and I think that definitely helped to learn the language. We also studied poetry. We memorized it - most of the things were by memorization. You memorize it and stand up in front of the class and recite. So obviously we're all nervous, but everyone got a turn, and it was a little challenge. In a sense, it forced you to study so you didn't get too much embarrassment when the teacher called on you. There was a lot of memorization, which I didn't particularly enjoy, but it can be useful. First you memorized the thing, whether you understood it or not, and then when you get older, you remember it and go back to it. You ask yourself, "What was that all about? How do I interpret it? How do I apply that theory?" Then you understand the wisdom of that passage that you memorized. So as a young student you say, "That's ridiculous to memorize all these things." As an adult, you find a different perspective. The political situation was the reason my family moved from China to Hong Kong. When the Communists took over China, it was pretty rough. A lot of 55
  65. 65. things were being controlled: speech, movement; you can not easily move from one province to another. So we were fortunate that we were able to move to Macao and then Hong Kong. My grandfather was in the United States, so I think my parents anticipated coming to the U.S. later on. I was too young to know at the time, but that may have been why they chose to put me in a bilingual school in Hong Kong, so I would learn both English and Chinese. I think they realized that if you don't have the language skills, you can not find a job. Either it was their foresight or divine providence, but they put me in a religious school, so I was not just taking language, but religion as well. And of course the study of religion had a profound effect on me. My parents are not Catholic, so that's kind of interesting that I ended up there. It was never a problem that my parents were not Catholic. Religion was important to me, but I was not evangelical, in a sense. I really believe religion is a calling. Not every person is suited for every religion. Besides, in Chinese families, we don't openly discuss religion and things like Americans do. The sons or daughters in the families always obey. We don't challenge the parents. We can disagree, but we don't challenge them. Also my parents were not highly educated in terms of formal schooling, so I don't know that they were interested in discussing certain issues. Now that we are older, we talk more about current events than before. But when we were younger, we just talked about the family, what you should do, what you should not do. Of course they're concerned about how well you do in school, but as far as intellectually, no. I am a little better 56
  66. 66. prepared for that with my son because of my experience in the schools, and I'm ready for open discussion, debate, philosophy - this kind of thing. But the older generation, my parents, they didn't have that level of education, so they probably were not interested in philosophy and theology. When I moved to New York in 1966, with my parents, we settled in the city where my grandfather lived. It's not too far from Chinatown, but it's not a Chinese community; it was more Italian at that time. My grandfather had moved here, and married and had a family here after my mother was grown. My mother was the oldest daughter, and my grandfather told us he wanted to bring us here too. They realized that this is the place of opportunity for me; this is the place to be to get a higher education. Of course the first year, it was a little bit strange, obviously. You have complete culture shock and things like that. You can see that the competition is all around you and you know that you have to be able to go to the mainstream of American society. But I had a sense of what I wanted to accomplish and my family expectations. In order to do that, obviously you have to master the language, so you can communicate with other people and get a job in the mainstream. The most clear, sure way to go is through the education. So a college education is a basic requirement. So I set that goal. You really concentrate, you know: How can I catch up with my peers and eventually, after four years, compete in college? And you try to learn, to catch up. So there is a tendency at that young age to imitate or copy the American way of living, the language. And of course, I'm indebted to 57
  67. 67. my parents because they expected me to get a formal education and not just stick with the old garment industry, laundry, or restaurant business. They encouraged me to try my best and get on with my educational life and make a career, different from theirs. Once I set that goal, I aimed for it, and I associated with other people who are planning to go to college. We talked to each other, we communicated, we learned from each other and encouraged each other, basically. We competed with each other in a way - you know, which college are you going to make? And this kind of thing. I also could see some of my family members and I didn't want to be a failure. I wanted to do something. Practically all my cousins were born in America, so I wanted to prove the point that I could do equally well. It's a competition built in that I wanted to show some honor to the family. Obviously the first few years, the language was not able to catch up to par. I took my studies seriously, but I it was difficult for me to get into the high school I wanted, because of the reading level. So I went to a public high school for art and design since I really enjoy drawing as well. My mother's aunt said, "Well, maybe it's a good choice. Go ahead and study in a public high school. It's all right." And I studied there four years, which I really enjoyed. But, I knew my weakness. I knew I had to increase my vocabulary, so I went through some books and whenever I found a word I didn't use, I underlined it and studied it. The reading level, of course you read something and then you try to understand it. Once you increase the vocabulary, I think you can understand the reading 58