Immigrant high school students' in-depth understandings of the value of heritage language and bilingualism

Edwin David Arrieta, Florida International University


The purpose of this research was to explore perceptions among 9 th through 12th grade students from Brazil, Haiti and Jamaica, with respect to their heritage languages: Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and Jamaican Patois. An additional purpose was to understand in greater detail possible variations of perception with respect to heritage language maintenance (or loss) in relation to one’s gender, first language, and place of birth. The research implemented semi-structured interviews with male and female adolescents with these heritage language backgrounds. Participants’ responses were recorded and transcribed. The transcriptions were analyzed via a categorizing of themes emerging from the data. Data were analyzed using inductive analysis. Three categories emerged from the inductive analysis of the data: (a) heritage language, (b) bilingualism, and (c) English as a second language. The analysis reveals that as participants learn English, they continue to value their heritage language and feel positively toward bilingualism, but differ in their preference regarding use of native language and English in a variety of contexts. There seems to be a mismatch between a positive attitude and an interest in learning their heritage language. Families and teachers, as agents, may not be helping students fully understand the advantages of bilingualism. Students seem to have a lack of understanding of bilingualism’s cognitive and bi-literacy benefits. Instead, employment seems to be perceived as the number one reason for becoming bilingual. Also, the students have a desire to add culture to the heritage language curriculum. The study was conducted at one of the most diverse and largest high schools in Palm Beach, in Palm Beach County, Florida. The results of this study imply that given the positive attitude toward heritage language and bilingualism, students need to be guided in exploring their understanding of heritage language and bilingualism. Implications for teaching and learning, as well as recommendations for further research, are included.

Subject Area

English as a Second Language|Educational psychology|Secondary education|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Arrieta, Edwin David, "Immigrant high school students' in-depth understandings of the value of heritage language and bilingualism" (2010). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3472022.