Perspectives of High School Students in a Spanish Immersion Program

Johnson, Lucy, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Covert, Robert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

To function today amidst the societal, economic, and national security challenges of our interconnected world, American students need the ability to speak one or more languages other than English and to perform effectively in the respective cultures (Trilling & Fadel, 2009). Foreign language educators have achieved more progress in the former than the latter, however; their insightful analysis of culture learning, along with that of interculturalists, has proved hard to “operationalize” (Klein, 2004).

This descriptive, qualitative study shows a way. Interview and focus-group data were collected from 27 native English-speaking, native Spanish-speaking, and heritage language students in a one-way, foreign-language immersion program at a large public high school in Virginia. A major finding of the study is that social interaction, as the determinant of comfort level and emotional support as well as the vehicle for linguistic and cultural interchange, played an essential role in the language and culture learning of the ethnically diverse study participants; vis-à-vis culture, they progressed from knowledge, to ever-wider experience and reflection on that experience, to a deeper level of culture learning.

Research has shown that students have the potential to develop advanced levels of target language proficiency in the formal classroom setting in high school foreign language immersion programs (Forrest, 2011); nonetheless, an authoritative study has yet to be conducted to support this claim. Similarly, while educators and interculturalists have identified the goals of culture learning—awareness of other cultures, greater cross-cultural understanding, an ability to view one's culture of origin from an outsider's perspective—only a limited amount of educational research, of a general nature, has explored students’ perspectives on their culture learning experiences (Paige, R. M., Jorstad, H. L., Siaya, L., Klein, F.M., & Colby, J., 2003). This study breaks ground in the research literature by examining immersion students' beliefs about the experience of learning two languages and cultures. It contributes to what we know about culture teaching and learning in the fields of immersion education, bilingual education, and foreign / second language education, and thanks to the students’ input, it offers a way to make culture learning “operational.”

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
foreign language immersion education, two-way immersion education, foreign language education, bilingual education, English Language Learners, High School, Second Language Acquisition, Social Interaction, Culture Learning
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: