Abstract. Through case study methodology, this study examined how a
second-generation bilingual child developed his two languages and
associated literacies, the role of the parents' and child's
goals as well as the family's daily effort to attain those goals,
and the influences of environmental, social, and cultural factors. Based
on sociocultural theoretical frameworks, extensive qualitative data from
multiple sources were collected through in-depth interviews, participant
observation, document reviews, and informal/narrative assessments of the
focal child's bilingual and biliteracy development over 10 months.
Findings suggest that the focal child's oral home language and
literacy were supported through tutoring and heritage language school
attendance, the family's value on bilingualism and biliteracy, and
the parents' significant financial resources. Consequently, the
focal child made gains in Korean literacy. Nevertheless, this
child's Korean language abilities were largely supplanted by his
rapidly growing oral English language and literacy abilities, in part
due to his all-English schooling. This study has implications for
families, educators, and researchers who hope to support children's
oral language and literacy abilities in two languages: English and their
It is estimated that two-thirds of the worldwide population is
bilingual (Baker & Jones, 1998), indicating that bilingualism is a
major linguistic and educational global phenomenon (Grosjean, 1982;
Shin, 2005). In the United States, approximately 21% of school-age
children (5 to 17 years old) in 2007 came from families that speak a
language other than English (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). However, this
number is estimated to increase to more than 40% by the year 2050
(Lindholm-Leary, 2001). The Korean population also has been increasing
within the United Sates. According to U.S. Census Bureau, the
Korean-origin population was 1,190,353 in 2000, while the number of
newly arrived Koreans in 2005 was 903,116 (Immigration and
Naturalization Service Records, 2005). Many U.S.-born children of
immigrants struggle to achieve and maintain proficiency in both their
heritage language and English (Shin, 2005; Tabors, 2008; Tse, 2001).
Research indicates that for many children, the preschool and
elementary years are some of the most important periods for oral and
literacy acquisition in two languages (e.g., Baker, 2001; Perez &
Torres-Guzman, 2002). These advocates are particularly concerned with
the loss of children's home languages due to a lack of support
(Crawford, 2000; Tabors, 2008). Although one common option, heritage
language schools, can benefit identity and home language competence (for
example, for Korean children) (Pak, 2003; Shin, 2005; You, 2005), they
do not provide sufficient support for home language development of
bilinguals as compared to the constant exposure to English-speaking
settings (Bialystok, 2001; Ramirez, 1985; You, 2005).
This study focused on one second-generation Korean student's
literacy and oral language acquisition in Korean and English over a
10-month period, as part of a six-year longitudinal case study. In
particular, we discuss how this Korean American child negotiated
sociocultural factors impacting bilingual/biliteracy development. We
first review research and theoretical perspectives relevant to literacy
and oral language development of bilingual/biliterate children. Next, we
present a qualitative case study. Subsequently, findings will be
discussed and we make recommendations for furthering children's
spoken home language and literacy and oral English language and literacy
development. We will address the following research questions:
1) What are the immigrant parents' and second-generation
child's linguistic goals?
2) What factors impacted this child's bilingualism and
3) What progress in Korean oral language and literacy did the child
make during the course of this study?
The following are critical sociocultural factors and
characteristics for bilingual children who are raised and educated in
the predominant culture and language of the United States. Included are
heritage language loss, aspects of bilingualism and biliteracy, home
literacy events and environments, and code switching, as they are
critical issues related to the study.
Heritage Language Loss
Although many immigrant parents know the importance of bilingualism
and try to speak their home language(s) with their children,
second-generation children tend to be at risk of losing their
family's linguistic and ethnic identity. The home language is
important to cultural identity for second-generation immigrants (Li,
2002), because if they lose their home language, then their heritage
culture and ethnic identity may diminish when living in a
second-language speaking country (Cummins, 2000; Shin, 2005).
Additionally, the social and emotional connections between young
immigrants and their family and community, who are interactive and
supportive in many ways, may not last long enough to foster
children's home cultural and linguistic identity and skills (Wong
Fillmore, 1991a, 1991b). Second-generation Korean American students who
were proficient in English expressed frustration with the social,
emotional, cultural, and linguistic disconnect from their families (Cho
& Krashen, 1998; Ro, 2008).
According to Tse (2001), second-generation immigrants may willingly
lose their languages due to a strong desire for a sense of belonging to
a dominant group; limited exposure to, and lack of opportunities to
develop, their home language; and the power of the English language.
These practical challenges are faced by many immigrant parents and their
families and are difficult to counteract.
Bilingualism and Biliteracy
Bilingualism is traditionally defined as "a person's
ability to process two languages" (Williams & Snipper, 1990, p.
33). We define bilinguals as people who can functionally utilize two
different languages for different purposes in various situations to meet
given needs by relying on developmental and social contexts (Bialystok,
2001; Garcia, 2000; Romaine, 1995)o From a sociocultural perspective,
biliteracy refers to written language development in two or more
languages to some degree, either simultaneously or successively (Garcia,
2000; Shin, 2005). Biliteracy development reflects both the cognitive
procedures of individuals and that of the involved family, community,
and society, using two written language systems (Romaine, 1995).
Language proficiency in two languages refers to bilinguals'
functional and communicative competence in any context in both languages
(Bialystok, 2001; Grosjean, 1982).
Although bilingualism is opposed by some parents and educators,
researchers indicate that being bilingual and participating in quality
bilingual education programs that include effective reading and writing
instruction have positive effects on children's academic,
functional, social, and linguistic development (e.g., Baker, 2006;
Cheatham, Santos, & Ro, 2007)--for example, the transfer of literacy
skills from one language to another (Garcia, 1998, 2000). However,
children's bilingual and biliteracy development in the United
States can be challenging. Even in homes where parents use only their
home language, the influence of English can be felt through
English-language media and other popular culture (Li, 2002; Tabors &
Snow, 2001). Moreover, as children increasingly engage in educational
and social activities outside of their homes, English tends to be their
Given this linguistic environment within the United States, a child
being raised in a bilingual home (e.g., both parents speak English and
Korean) while living in an English-language community may be considered
an "at-risk bilingual" (Tabors, 2008; Tabors & Snow,
2001). Because of the link between oral language development and
literacy, the child also appears less likely to be biliterate. Moreover,
Tabors and Snow (2001) suggest that some parents could attend to English
literacy to such an extent that the child has little oral home language
and literacy support at home. Tabors and Snow also indicate that in
elementary school programs in which teachers and children only speak
English, the child will likely develop spoken English language and
literacy with little to no home language maintenance.
Home Literacy Events and Environments
Researchers emphasize the importance of social environments for
bilingual children's oral language and literacy skills (Bauer,
2000; Jimenez, Garcia, & Pearson, 1995; Tabors & Snow, 2001).
Accordingly, parents can purposely construct an environment to foster
biliteracy and bilingualism for their children. Parent-child
interactions are critical to spoken language and literacy learning. For
example, parent-child conversations during meals may help develop
children's language skills (Purcell-Gates, 1996; Ro, 2008) and can
facilitate the development of literacy skills. Additionally, parents can
generate and foster children's literacy activities at home as the
continuum of learning at school (Delgado & Gaitan, 1990;
Purcell-Gates, 1996), as well as increase children's motivation to
read (Klesius & Griffith, 1996). This encouragement may happen
through such activities as interactive storybook reading, which may also
support children's receptive spoken language and print concepts
(Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Interactive storybook reading
appears to be helpful, especially for bilingual learners who are exposed
to two languages (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Tompkins, 2006).
Children may enjoy the storyline of books either in their first language
or English; additionally, bilingual children are often curious when
comparing two languages in a safe atmosphere (Gregory & Williams,
2000; Ro, 2008).
Additionally, interactions with siblings can affect spoken
bilingual and biliteracy proficiency. For instance, older siblings may
facilitate the transfer of literacy skills that are acquired in their
mainstream English school, or in the heritage language community
classes, to younger siblings (Gregory & Williams, 2000). As these
older children increasingly participate in visible home biliteracy
experiences, both older and younger children can connect with a broad
range of literacy resources at home (Obied, 2008).
Furthermore, the physical arrangement of the home environment may
affect children's bilingualism. For example, Morrow and Weinstein
(1986) suggest that creating a visible, accessible, and attractive
library corner can benefit bilingual children. Similarly, parents in
bilingual families could put out books written in the child's first
language (e.g., Korean). Thus, parents' education, efforts, goals,
and home environment are critical to improving children's oral
bilingual and biliteracy skills.
Although often considered from a linguistic deficit perspective,
code switching is an important characteristic of bilingual and
biliterate learners and can be defined as "[alternating] between
two language systems in an utterance or conversation" (Perez &
Torres-Guzman, 2002, p. 52). Described as "skilled
performance" (Meyers-Scotton, 1993, p. 74), code switching allows
bilinguals to make linguistic choices and display their growing
linguistic repertoires (Gumperz, 1982) in their two languages as they
demonstrate sensitivity to social-cultural expectations and norms in
particular contexts (Bauer, 2000; Nicoladis & Genesee, 1996; Perez
& Torres-Guzman, 2002). Children sometimes code switch when they do
not know a word in one language, when they do not find the equivalent
word for direct translation, or when they use the language in which they
are weaker (as cited in Bauer, Hall, & Kruth, 2002). Children can be
strategic code-switchers, showing an understanding of the grammatical
rules of each oral language. Thus, individuals who code-switch try to
meet "the complex communicative demands of a pluralistic
society" (Sridhar, 1996, p. 53). This is particularly the case for
children from diverse backgrounds, who consistently use two languages in
various environments (Adendorff, 1966; Chung, 2008; Li, 1994; Shin,
This literature review discussed heritage language loss,
bilingualism and biliteracy, home literacy events and environments, and
code switching as characteristics of bilingual children and their
sociocultural environments within the United States. While research has
been conducted within each of these distinct areas, few studies (e.g.,
Kim, 2004) have investigated the intersection of these topics for a
single child through an in-depth, qualitative case study. Given the
complicated nature of these topics, a comprehensive, contextual
investigation can provide new insights into not only children's
linguistic development but also factors that interact with and impact
their bilingual oral language and literacy learning. Therefore, this
study examines how a second-generation bilingual child developed two
languages; the relationship between each family member's linguistic
goals and the means they used to achieve those goals; the kinds of
bilingual and biliteracy events that occurred in their daily lives; and
the influence of environmental, social, and cultural factors on a
child's oral bilingual and biliteracy development.
The data presented in this article are based on a 10-month period.
Because this time frame was embedded within a larger six-year,
longitudinal qualitative case study, the authors occasionally reference
critical information occurring outside of the 10-month period. This
study used qualitative case study methodology, which Stake (1995)
defined as best for "naturalistic, holistic, ethnographic,
biographic, and phenomenological research methods" (p. xi). In the
process of data collection and analysis, this method is deliberately
"empathic" and emphasizes the "uniqueness of the
situation" (Stake, Bresler, & Mabry, 1991, p. 11-12). Forming
fundamental relationships with participants and observing in the
bilingual home situated the first author in the lived experiences of the
participants and allowed for what Geertz (1973) described as "thick
In this ethnographic study, two theoretical frameworks contributed
to the understanding of the second-generation learner's
bilingual/biliteracy development as socioculturally shaped practices:
Vygotsky's social-constructivism and Wenger's communities of
practices. First, Vygotsky (1978) emphasized that children's
learning and cognitive development is a complicated dialectical process
that is embedded in daily interactions as learners are socioculturally
exposed/engaged. Thus, learning and development (e.g., oral language and
literacy development) are socially collaborative procedures (Bruner,
1984) that involve facilitation and interactions with family members,
such as parents, siblings, and teachers. For this study, we investigated
these relationships and interactions as a window to the focal
child's oral language and literacy development.
Second, Wenger's (1998) theory of communities of practice was
used to investigate bilingual and biliteracy practices within and across
diverse communities. Bilingual children engaging in linguistic, social,
and cultural contexts as immigrants have no choice but to be involved in
several different communities, such as their homes, mainstream
classrooms, peer groups, afterschool activities, and religious groups.
As bilingual children live within and across multiple communities, they
acquire linguistic proficiency (Manyak, 2001). This sociocultural
theoretical framework fit into the nature of this inquiry, because we
were interested in sociocultural influences and reflective discourses in
bilingual and biliteracy development of second language learners within
and across different social settings (e.g., family and school influences
on a Korean child's Korean and English language development). Thus,
sociocultural contexts are critical to an understanding of
children's development and learning (Rogoff, 2003). Based on these
two sociocultural theories, we investigated bilingual and biliteracy
development in natural settings and explored the focal child's
situated and reformulated identities as a second-generation Korean
American and person of color living in the United States.
As with all research, this study was inherently influenced by the
two authors. Importantly, both authors value cultural and linguistic
diversity and bilingualism in the United States and abroad. Both
authors' gender, race, and socioeconomic class impacted this study
in their choice of research topics, participants, and interpretations.
The first author, a Korean immigrant and second language learner,
identified strongly with Kevin and his family and was able to tap into
culturally based values and assumptions. The second author, a European
American, former English as a second language teacher and school social
worker who had lived in South Korea as well as the town in which this
study was conducted, brought to this study knowledge of the education
system and culture of the United States. Data were generated and
interpreted based on their personal understandings, thoughts, and
experiences. Both authors made every attempt to accurately portray the
participants' interactions and perspectives.
This research was conducted in a midwestern U.S. twin-city area
with an estimated population of just under a quarter of a million,
nearly three-quarters of whom were white (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
There is a large university with a high percentage of Korean
international students; consequently, significant support is available
in the community for children to develop and maintain Korean spoken
language and literacy abilities (e.g., a Korean-heritage language
school, many Korean churches, and a Korean cultural center). Despite
this, societal and parental pressure to learn English also was present
in this research context, as is typical across the United States
(Corson, 2001; Crawford, 2000; Tse, 2001; Wong Fillmore, 1991a). The
neighborhood within which this family resided was considered middle- to
high-income and, while a few families from diverse cultural and
linguistic backgrounds resided there, the majority of families were
The children discussed in this study had been given Western names
by their parents; all of the names used in this study are pseudonyms.
The focal child, Kevin, was 10 years old, a 4th-grader, and attended a
high-quality, all-English neighborhood public school, which was
reflective of the demographics within his neighborhood. He was born in
the United States and could be characterized as active, social, and
outgoing. His personality appeared to help him acquire both English and
Korean as a means of interacting with others. He was confident using
English but had some difficulty forming grammatically correct sentences
in Korean, both spoken and written.
Contacting relatives in Korea necessitated being able to
communicate in Korean. Kevin used Korean when speaking on the phone and
during online voice chats with his grandmother and aunts in Korea. He
read Korean when he received birthday cards or letters from Korea. By
contrast, Kevin needed his parents' guidance, particularly that of
his mother, when writing in Korean. Kevin's two siblings, Mary (6
years old) and Cindy (4 years old), were also born in the United States.
Ogbu and Simons (1998), therefore, would likely consider these three
children second-generation Korean Americans.
Kevin's 37-year-old father was a doctorate-holding engineer in
a multinational company. He was born in Korea and lived there for a
time, lived in an English-speaking country in Asia, and lived in the
United States for several years as a child. Subsequently, his family
returned to Korea, where he lived until he and his wife returned to the
United States for his graduate studies 10 years prior to this study. He
achieved native-like English proficiency. With his diverse
linguistic/cultural background and outgoing personality, Kevin's
father was likely an influential person for Kevin and his two siblings.
Kevin's 36-year-old mother was a homemaker who held a
bachelor's degree from what is commonly known by Koreans as a
prestigious Korean university. She spoke English at a communicative
level, and this ability likely originated in her middle/high school
education in Korea and her own efforts after arriving in the United
States. She attempted to foster her children's interest in both
Korean and English with her enthusiasm and friendly personality, which
helped the children have more exposure to both languages (e.g.,
encouraging them to watch Korean videos, and supporting their
participation in a Korean heritage language school).
Prior to the beginning of this study, the family had been members
of and regularly participated in Korean church activities, which allowed
them to have many connections with the Korean community. The church
services were conducted in Korean, although the children's Sunday
school was taught through a mixture of Korean and English. Importantly,
children who attended this church largely spoke to one another in
English. During the 10-month period of this study, the family
discontinued regular church attendance. The mother provided no specific
reasons for leaving the church when asked by first author.
Given the parents' education and income levels, this family
can be considered as having a high socioeconomic status. They owned a
large house in an expensive neighborhood and were able to afford two
cars and meet their educational and leisure expenses. In terms of
linguistic and sociocultural capital/repertoires, this family was
Korean-dominant in language and culture, even as they occasionally spoke
English at home. Longitudinal observation allowed the first author to
experience the family's gradual changes from Korean-dominant to
having American/Westernized-style lives in their social, cultural, and
linguistic daily lives.
Data Generation and Interpretation
Ethnographic qualitative data for this study was generated through
participant observation, in-depth interviews, and written documentation
of oral language and literacy behaviors. Data analysis and
interpretation were based on themes that the two authors identified
across observational field notes, transcripts of audiotaped
interactions, interview transcripts, and writing/home literacy event
Participant Observation. To learn about the process of bilingual
oral language and literacy development for the focal child, the first
author was a participant observer in the child's conversations and
daily life, and participated in oral language and literacy events in his
home. The first author's "stance" (Emerson, Fritz, &
Shaw, 1995) was that of an observer, teacher, family guest, and
researcher. Primarily, observations were conducted before, during, and
after dinner and on weekends (e.g., playing games at home, participating
in such community events as Korean festivals). Most observations were
conducted in settings in which all of the family members participated.
The interactions with Kevin and his siblings were audiotaped. Field
notes were taken during family interactions and followed the guidelines
of Bogdan and Biklen t2003). Kevin's artwork and writing samples
were also collected.
In addition, the first author was a participant observer when
teaching Kevin in a Korean heritage language program (focusing on Korean
oral language and literacy) and tutoring (focusing primarily on Korean
literacy). The Korean heritage language class met once a week for two
hours; tutoring sessions occurred twice per week for one hour per
session. The first author collected Kevin's work and took field
notes according to Bogdan and Bicklen's (2003) guidelines on his
spoken language and literacy development. She used anecdotal,
qualitative, informal, narrative, and descriptive assessments while
developing a language/literacy portfolio, which included responses to
writing prompts, simple sentences and drawings, diary entries, essays,
and Korean school homework (e.g., reading Korean picture books,
practicing writing Korean words). These artifacts were assessed in a
method suggested by Salinger (2001). Observation details focusing on
linguistic events helped the authors develop an understanding of the
atmosphere, environment, daily life, linguistic interactions, and family
values on literacy development. These portfolio materials were
systematically arranged by themes (e.g., Korean writing, English
writing) regarding the focal child's language and literacy
development over time, and were formative in nature.
Interviews. The first author conducted a semi-structured interview
with Kevin's parents and with Kevin at the end of this study to
understand the processes of spoken language and literacy development.
Interview questions for the mother (e.g., What are your educational and
career goals for your children? Why do you send Kevin to Korean language
school and require him to participate in Korean tutoring? Why do you
think it is worth his time to become bilingual/biliterate? When do you
use Korean or English? When do you code-switch/mix? What are the
difficulties/hardships of raising your children to be
bilinguals/biliterates?) and for Kevin (e.g., Are you a Korean or an
American or something else? How do you feel about using two languages?
In what kinds of situations do you speak in English or Korean? If Korean
is more difficult, why?) were developed to respond to this study's
research questions. The interviews did not exceed 60 minutes in
duration. Additionally, frequent casual conversations and opportunities
for clarification with each participant occurred throughout the period
of this study. In each case, honest and detailed responses were sought
by using the language with which each participant was most comfortable;
consequently, the main language for discussion with Kevin's parents
was Korean, while discussions with Kevin were primarily in English.
During the parent interviews, the first author did what Wax (1960)
advocated: she presented herself as a learner (as cited in Fontana &
Frey, 2000), reminding the parents that she was not a parent herself but
was still interested in learning about how they interact with their
children regarding spoken bilingual and biliteracy development.
Furthermore, being familiar with the family as a frequent guest allowed
the first author to better analyze and interpret the interview data.
Interviews and discussions were transcribed verbatim by the first
author, who ensured accuracy for all Korean-to-English and
English-to-Korean translations. Interview transcripts were analyzed
following procedures discussed by Kvale (1996). First, the data were
read completely to help the authors understand the overall meaning of
the discussion and observation. Next, the researchers identified themes
in the data to form tentative summary statements, which were altered as
needed when new data were encountered. The result was mutually exclusive
themes and sub-themes.
Lincoln and Guba's (1985) notion of trustworthiness was
important in the data generation and interpretation procedures for this
study. Due to the first author's intimate relationship with the
family, frequent meetings, frequent tutoring and teaching, contact
hours, and her knowledge of Korean language and culture, credible
understandings and inferences were generated. Furthermore, qualitative
themes were identified by the authors independently and were compared.
When differences of opinion occurred, consensus was reached through
further analysis and discussion. Moreover, because several data sources
were generated for this study, more valid inferences were generated as
the data were triangulated to form a coherent picture of Kevin's
and his family's spoken language and literacy perceptions and
Thus, to address our research questions regarding linguistic goals,
factors impacting the focal child's bilingualism and biliteracy,
and Korean oral language and literacy progress within the 10-month time
frame, we implemented several data-generation procedures (i.e.,
participant observation, discussion, and interviews). These procedures
led to the collection of significant amounts of data in portfolio
materials, interactions, and perspectives of participants.
In this section, findings will be discussed to address the research
questions delineated at the beginning of this article. Relevant
examples, sample transcript excerpts, and brief descriptions of
assessment results will be included. We discuss the results framed
around two themes: the parents' values and roles as well as the
child's perspective, his linguistic behavior in Korean and English,
and his attitudes.
Parents' Values and Roles
From the beginning of this study, Kevin's parents were
integral parts of his education and provided significant guidance
towards skills they considered valuable, as indicated during
observation, interview, and discussion. The importance of Korean and
English oral language and literacy as well as Korean culture was
demonstrated in the following excerpt, taken from an interview with
We are Korean, so we should know how to read and write Korean at
the same time as English, because we are in the United States now.
Although my children, all of them, were born here, we can't be the
same as Americans. We are not sure we will go back to Korea or not, but
we want our children to master both languages; then they can be
confident in any situation in both countries.
Reflecting the parents' value on Korean as well as English
spoken language and literacy, Kevin was exposed to many literacy events
and experiences through abundant print resources at home. Kevin's
room had a library corner, including many kinds and levels of Korean and
English books. Fiction and nonfiction books of various sizes, materials,
and genres were placed on bookshelves throughout the house, but
especially in the biggest bookshelf in the family's den, a central
family gathering place easily accessed by the children. According to the
mother, Kevin demonstrated interest in books within the home, which were
approximately 60% Korean and 40% English. Kevin's siblings
frequently read and played with those books. Kevin's parents
modeled interactions with print by frequently reading Korean and English
books themselves and to the children. Moreover, reflecting their values,
the parents devoted considerable financial resources to a bi-weekly
Korean tutor and sending Kevin to the Korean school. The Korean school
curriculum focused on Korean oral and written language (e.g., reading
aloud, listening to traditional stories, Korean dictation), while the
Korean tutoring program mainly focused on Korean reading and writing
(e.g., reading comprehension activities and journal writing).
Unlike at home, where the parents attempted to establish a
Korean-literate-rich environment, Kevin's U.S. public school was
not supportive of his speaking Korean. Monthly observations of Kevin at
school indicated that teachers did not encourage his Korean oral
language, literacy, and cultural knowledge. When asked about this, Kevin
was emphatic: "No, no, [my teacher has] never [discussed Korean
language or culture]. It's an American school! It never happened,
never, NEVER!" Instead, the focus was on English oral language,
literacy, and American culture only (e.g., mainstream American
perspectives on play, American holidays).
Kevin's all-English school environment had a profound and
continual impact on his spoken language and literacy proficiencies. For
instance, as his mother said about his early school career,
"[Kevin] could not understand what the teacher said, so we started
to mix English and Korean to help him learn English." Although this
step was perhaps helpful to Kevin's transition to an all-English
environment, this decision and others delineated below likely set the
stage for Kevin's continual challenge to learning and maintaining
Korean language and literacy.
Throughout this study, Kevin's participation in his
all-English elementary school (including peer social interactions)
supported his gains in English proficiency. The homework assignments
from his public elementary school focused on English and did not
encourage Kevin's Korean literacy and culture. As his English
literacy and oral language skills increased, his English abilities
rapidly surpassed his Korean abilities. Importantly, Mary, Kevin's
younger sister, began preschool at the beginning of this study. As
Mary's English oral language proficiency increased, Kevin began to
more frequently switch from speaking Korean to English with Mary and
with his parents. Because Mary was Kevin's primary play partner at
home, Mary's increasing ability to interact in English had
significant effects on Kevin's use of Korean. Consequently, the
family slowly used less Korean at home.
The parents attempted to counteract Kevin's shift from Korean
to English but not in a systematic way, such as instituting a
"Korean-only rule" at home. For example, when Kevin and his
siblings tried to speak only in English to the parents, they sometimes
intentionally changed to speaking Korean, apparently hoping that the
children would recognize why they suddenly changed the language they
were speaking. In this situation, Kevin sometimes followed his
parents' lead by changing from English to Korean; however, he often
continued speaking English.
Additionally, Kevin's parents code-switched rather than
speaking only in Korean. When Kevin did not understand a Korean word or
phase, his parents often translated it to English, as Kevin's
When [the children] asked for explanations, sometimes they could
not understand in Korean. Therefore, we explained in English first and
gave another explanation in Korean.
Over time, the mother began responding to the children in short
English phrases more frequently than in Korean. As seen in the
transcript excerpt below, taken from a dinner table discussion, Korean
was increasingly neglected, other than such simple phrases and
vocabulary as "I don't know" and "July":
Kevin: What month is it? (English) Father: Can you guess? (English)
Kevin: What month is it? (English)
Father: Can you guess? (English)
Kevin: I don't know, July? (Korean) July? (English)
Mother: July (English) July, July (Korean) July (English)
Kevin: What day? Tuesday? (English)
Mother: July on Wednesday (English)
Garcia (1983) indicated that mixing languages does not necessarily
lead to loss of spoken language proficiency; however, the trend towards
more code-switching in this family appeared to lead to decreased Korean
use at home.
Still, the parents had not given up on speaking Korean at home.
They tended to speak Korean to Mary more than with Kevin. When asked
why, the mother indicated that Kevin had lost some Korean literacy and
oral language ability and she hoped to ensure that his younger sister,
Mary, did not meet the same fate. They wanted Mary to continue
developing her Korean. The parents were not applying the same strategy
with Kevin, because they found it too difficult to quickly change their
verbal and written communication habits, which were increasingly in
English. In reality, the parents seemed to accept that Kevin was
becoming more comfortable speaking English than Korean.
The parents continued to put effort into Korean spoken language and
literacy development for their children; however, more practical matters
tended to get in the way. To be sure, their busy daily lives and the two
younger siblings who constantly needed the parents' attention
played a role in the decreased emphasis on Korean at home. In the
interest of meeting critical family needs, the parents sometimes pushed
aside regularly interacting in Korean and supporting Korean literacy,
although they continued to occasionally find teachable moments. As the
mother indicated during an interview, the family's attention to
Korean oral language and literacy ebbed and flowed, particularly in
response to the family's busy daily lives.
Our emphasis [on Korean language and literacy] has varied time to
time, even though I've always known its importance. There were
times that I had to give it up and the situation made me want to let it
go. You know, I'm really busy with three children. On the other
hand, there are times that I really feel it's time to start again.
Then I try again and again and that's been possible [with
Gradually, the parents displayed the viewpoint that Kevin's
Korean literacy was the responsibility of his private Korean tutor and
teachers at the Korean language school, due the parents' lack of
available time and attention at home. Kevin's mother talked about
the reasons she sought Korean tutoring support for Kevin:
I tried to teach how to read and write in Korean, but it is too
difficult to sit down with [Kevin] and make [him] concentrate on
studying, as the mother of[a] baby and young children.... [Tutoring]
will fill up the hole of what we cannot teach them for Korean language
Thus, outside of the Korean language school and tutoring sessions,
Kevin had increasingly fewer opportunities for Korean oral language and
literacy development and maintenance.
The Child's Perspective, Attitude, and Linguistic Behavior
Kevin's perspectives, attitude, and behavior regarding both
Korean and English changed over time. As for Korean oral proficiency,
Kevin's mother indicated that early on, he used both Korean and
English, but his nearly all-English environment led him increasingly to
feel more comfortable with English:
Kevin liked both languages until kindergarten but started to prefer
using English when he was in the 1st grade, in part due to watching
television and interacting with peers. His environment is composed of
English except [for] his family, but we also sometimes use English. So
Kevin feels much more comfortable with and at ease with using English
Like his parents, during the time span of this study, Kevin
indicated that Korean spoken language and literacy was important to him.
His viewpoint appeared to be primarily linked to his parents'
perspective, as indicated when he said, "My parents are Korean and
I'm a Korean-American. And they keep telling me that I should know
about Korean." Kevin asserted that Korean was much more difficult
than English and showed a preference for English during discussions with
the first author by responding in English to questions asked in Korean.
Even if Kevin wanted to speak Korean, it seemed that there was no safe
place for him to use and practice Korean for any significant amount of
time, even at home.
In fact, Kevin disclosed that he often could not understand his
parents when they spoke to him in Korean. He asserted that he simply
wanted to speak English, which would simplify his life. He also was
increasingly ashamed about his family's use of Korean. During one
observation at the family's home, Kevin was playing with some
native-English speaking children. When his mother instructed him in
Korean to be careful as he played, Kevin expressed embarrassment and
frustration that his mother sometimes spoke Korean to him and that his
English-speaking peers asked him to translate her words into English.
Kevin also indicated that he could read and write and speak in both
languages; nevertheless, through interview, discussion, and observation,
it was obvious that Kevin believed that English oral language and
literacy was far easier than Korean. For instance, although he sometimes
enjoyed reading Korean books, Kevin preferred books in English when
given the opportunity to choose. Moreover, Kevin increasingly showed a
preference for reading simple, rather than challenging, Korean books.
For example, he sometimes expressed his interest and curiosity about the
content of short Korean books and the illustrations within them. He
attempted to skim the front page of these short Korean books, read the
titles, looked at illustrations quickly, and said, "I want to read
this." On one occasion, he directly opened the cover of a new
Korean book, "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (i.e.,
"The Grandmother Who Passes Gas"), and started to read. He
read the first sentence of the text right away, "[TEXT NOT
REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (i.e., "A long, long time ago in a
rural town, there was a grandmother who passed gas all the time").
However, upon looking at the thickness of this Korean book, he sighed
and refused to continue. Kevin typically reacted this way when reading
Korean, which was more difficult for him than reading in English.
Consequently, he tended to refuse to read Korean books that were even
just slightly more difficult than his current reading level. Reading in
English, however was substantially less problematic, as illustrated by
his high marks at school.
Similarly, Kevin's interest in Korean writing changed.
Although he indicated that he "liked Korean a long time ago,"
he now felt more comfortable with English literacy, because
"it's easier than Korean." Towards the end of this study,
"It is so difficult when I write [in Korean].... It's
easy to write in English ... I can just write. But it is difficult when
the sound and writing is different in Korean. And I don't know many
words in Korean, so I have to ask [for help]."
Consequently, Kevin appeared anxious when writing essays or letters
to family members in Korean; he preferred to write short dictations
rather than long essays. Although Kevin complained about Korean reading
and writing, throughout the time of this study, he willingly
participated in bi-weekly Korean tutoring sessions and weekly Korean
Nonetheless, nearly all of the environments in which Kevin found
himself encouraged oral language and literacy development of English
rather than Korean. As a consequence, his English oral language and
literacy proficiency was increasing at a rate commensurate with that of
his native-English speaking peers, according to teacher and parent
reports. As for Korean, Kevin's literacy skills progressed during
the 10 months of this study, due to literacy intervention through the
language school and individual tutoring. In fact, based on observation
and analysis, Kevin improved from an early beginning reader to an
advanced beginning reader, according to Salinger's (2001) scale of
early literacy development. Thus, Kevin made substantial improvements in
Korean reading during this case study.
For example, Kevin exhibited improvement in phonemic awareness,
letter-sound correspondence, alphabetic knowledge, vocabulary knowledge,
reading speed, and comprehension, although he continued to make some
mistakes. Kevin easily identified words that he already knew. He also
guessed at the meaning and sounds of words unknown to him. He identified
most Korean letters and sounds and read correctly by putting his index
finger under each word as he read. It was clear that he read to
understand the meaning of words and content in text. His understanding
of a narrative text, usually several paragraphs of a short book, was
illustrated when he was asked to pause and predict what would happen
next. With his knowledge of Korean vocabulary and his comprehension
ability, Kevin usually understood story texts and often correctly
predicted the next events in the story.
Kevin also made gradual improvements in his Korean writing. His
content and flow improved slightly during this 10-month study. At the
start of this study, his diary entries consisted of 2- to 3-word
sentences, such as "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (i.e.,
"I went to school."), and there was no beginning or end to the
stories that he wrote. Later, he produced longer essays about topics he
chose (e.g., a rainbow) and eventually wrote four to six sentences that
flowed quite smoothly. He mastered his understanding of how each letter
can function to make the sounds of a whole word. Kevin listened to the
first author's pronunciation, carefully trying to write down each
letter that had the same sound (or similar sounds, based on his phonemic
awareness). This suggested that he attained sound-symbol relationship
knowledge, a skill found to be universally essential for success in
reading, writing, and spelling (Goshwami, 2002).
Moreover, although Kevin continued to make some mistakes, such as
putting no space between words or writing Korean letters in an
ill-shaped square, he gained knowledge of the rules about how to write
Korean. For example, he exhibited an increased understanding that: 1)
letters are written from left to right and top to bottom; 2) letters
should be in an imaginary square box; 3) letters usually are written to
allow spaces between words, but not in all cases; and 4) Korean letters
are not capitalized (Koda, 1998).
In sum, this study revealed that primarily due to parental support,
participation in Korean tutoring, and attending a Korean heritage
language school, Kevin's Korean literacy skills gradually
increased, although not to the level expected for peers living in Korea.
Kevin's English oral language and literacy skills also increased.
In contrast, Kevin's daily educational practices and interactions
with peers and family members (particularly with his sister, who
recently entered all-English schooling) resulted in a gradual decrease
in Korean oral language use and proficiency. His parents had not
expected this outcome, as they had provided material, emotional, and
financial support for spoken bilingualism and biliteracy. With best
intentions, they tried to develop and incorporate two languages into
their daily lives and environments, supported the child's
participation in Korean cultural activities, and intended to raise him
as a Korean-American who was well-balanced in both languages and
cultures. The focal child was frequently though not sufficiently exposed
to rich language and literacy events in Korean. Thus, achieving high
levels of language proficiency in both Korean and English did not appear
to be feasible for this child, provided he continued on the same
trajectory, because his daily exposure and use of Korean continued to
decrease and could not compete with his daily environmental and
institutional exposure to English.
Discussion and Conclusion
Many children become bilingual and biliterate as they grow up in
the United States. Despite this, a greater number of these children lose
their home languages (Tse, 2001; Wong Fillmore, 1991a), including those
whose parents are bilingual and have the ability to speak both the home
language and English at home. Taking a sociocultural perspective (i.e.,
social constructivism and communities of practice) provides insight into
both the challenges to developing, and the potential strategies to
support, bilingualism and biliteracy for children like Kevin, by looking
at the interactions and contexts in which children develop.
The greater linguistic community can play a significant role in
children's language choice (Caldas, 2006; Caldas &
Caron-Caldas, 2000), placing many of them at risk for losing their home
language (Obied, 2008; Tabors & Snow, 2001). These influences appear
to be felt even with families that have great financial and
sociocultural resources (e.g., the ability and time to send a child to a
heritage language school and to a tutor), as did Kevin's family.
Interestingly, given the links between oral language proficiency and
literacy (see Bialystok, 2001; Grosjean, 1982; Ovando, Collier, &
Combs, 2003), it may be true that children from families with fewer
resources and who only speak the home language have greater
opportunities to become bilingual and biliterate.
Despite the noted benefits of heritage language schools (Shin,
2005; You, 2005), this study suggests that they are not sufficient, not
even with the inclusion of bi-weekly tutoring and parents' strong
value on using the heritage language. Krashen (1981) asserted that
children acquire language when they have exposure to language that lies
at and just beyond their current level of development. This was also
important to Kevin's Korean language acquisition. Because Kevin was
increasingly less proficient in oral Korean, he likely had more
difficulty acquiring Korean literacy proficiency (i.e., reading and
writing). Oral language development and literacy skills can be linked
(e.g., Geva & Zadeh, 2006). Greater exposure, opportunities for
meaningful interactions, intensive and structured parental daily
support, and daily immersion into heritage culture and community appear
critical for children to attain proficiency in the spoken home language
and literacy skills.
Another important factor to the acquisition and retention of
children's oral home language and literacy is having family time to
engage in home language and literacy activities. Clearly, Kevin's
parents were busy with their day-to-day activities. Given the busy
schedules that many families face, finding the time and energy to devote
to spoken home language and literacy may be difficult. Despite
parents' desire to have their children experience and use the home
language, parents may defer to English, even when speaking at home, as a
matter of expediency. Code-switching may result in less use of the home
oral language and an increase in the use of oral English and may
actually facilitate oral home language and literacy loss. These
pressures likely increase when a family has more children. Moreover, as
children such as Kevin attend the upper elementary grades, more homework
is required, socialization events with English-speaking peers increase,
and extracurricular activities demand more time spent using English.
Additionally, children's oral language and literacy
acquisition can be affected by attitudes. For Kevin, who often stated
that reading and writing Korean was too difficult compared to English,
he did not realize that Korean sound-symbols are actually more closely
correlated than the sound-symbols of English. In fact, Korean letters
were scientifically developed to fit the Korean language, which is
syllabic. Consequently, Korean-English bilingual students tend to more
easily recognize symbol-sound correspondence in Korean than in English
(Koda, 1998; Shin, 2005). Thus, for Kevin, learning to read and write in
Korean should have been easier if he had a strong basis in Korean oral
language and greater support within his environment.
Many children in the United States are living in an environment
where English literacy and oral language are highly prized and where
children are provided not only with English oral language input but also
instruction in English literacy on a scale that seems nearly impossible
to match with spoken heritage language and literacy input. This exposure
to English oral language and English literacy, and the potential
benefits of this valuable linguistic code (Wong-Fillmore, 1991a),
appears to override individuals' and families' value on spoken
home language and literacy retention.
Motivation (Gardner & Lambert, 1972) and opportunities for
authentic communication (Lindfors, 2008) are other major factors that
appear to account for English taking precedence over Korean. For Kevin,
there was little or no motivation to learn Korean literacy and oral
language, because he could always read, write, and communicate in
English to have his social, emotional, physical, and educational needs
met. Likewise, little authentic and purposeful use of Korean was evident
compared to that of English. Despite his parents' emphasis on the
meaning and usefulness of being bilingual and biliterate, Kevin and many
other bilingual children have few experiences to help develop a strong
motivation to learn to read and write in the heritage language.
Moreover, these same children (and, at times, other family members, due
to their recognition of the benefits of English spoken language and
literacy) may have little motivation and purpose to continue pursuing
spoken home language and literacy learning.
Children's identity also is likely to play a role in oral
language and literacy acquisition. Children like Kevin need a strong
Korean-American bi-ethnic/-cultural identity to support their
bilingualism and biliteracy (McCarthey, 2002; Norton, 2000). Kevin, like
many second-generation children, saw himself as American rather than
Korean or Korean American. With his identity as American, and his
motivation to assimilate with peers and adults, he did not see the
usefulness or purposes of reading and writing in Korean. As a result,
Kevin may not have realized any advantage to being biliterate.
All of this paints a picture that is truly disturbing. Despite
significant family resources, children's early acquisition of the
oral home language and literacy skills, and families' value on
spoken home language and literacy acquisition and retention, some
children are not likely to become bilingual and biliterate adults. It
would be easy to blame the parents for these outcomes, because they
failed to remain consistent in their use of the home language; casting
blame would be inappropriate, however (Grosjean, 1982). It takes an
entire community to demonstrate the value of bilingualism to children
for them to be intrinsically motivated and recognize the purposes to
pursue more than one language. In communities that place greater value
on bilingualism and biliteracy, children would grow up seeing the use of
two languages as a normal state of affairs rather than an aberration.
Indeed, communities have established programs for children in the United
States that help promote bilingualism and biliteracy (e.g., Shin, 2005;
Tse, 2001). It is through bilingual maintenance programs that children,
such as the focal child of this study, appear to have the greatest
chance to become bilingual and biliterate and gain the benefits that
accompany these diverse linguistic skills.
There are several limitations in this study, the first of which is
related to the larger contextual question of a single case study. Single
case studies have some advantages, such as in-depth and interpretive
presentation of data to focus on one typical or unique case. The focal
child for this study was likely representative of numerous Korean
children in the research context with similar backgrounds. However, this
study may not be representative of children from other ethnic,
socioeconomic, and geographic backgrounds. Overall, the two authors kept
in mind that single cases are socioculturally situated representations
of phenomenon (Dyson & Genishi, 2005; Stake, 1995) rather than a
representation of the phenomenon itself. Consequently, this case study
has value (see Flyvbjerg, 2006) and provides families and educators with
important details about acquisition and maintenance of home languages
for children with language-minority backgrounds.
Another limitation was related to the difficulty of selecting and
analyzing data from a longitudinal, six-year study. Children's
language and literacy development is continuous, complicated, and
related to each stage; therefore, the two authors had difficulty
extracting only 10 months from the larger longitudinal study. The focal
child has demonstrated different stages of bilingualism/biliteracy over
the six years of the larger study, but we chose this 10-month period to
highlight the focal child's process in becoming
bilingual/biliterate while he and his siblings were increasingly exposed
to the all-English schooling in the United States. Future publications
will address different stages within the entire six-year period.
This study presented a detailed analysis of a child's oral
bilingual and biliterate development and influential sociocultural
factors; thus, this study has important implications for both practice
Implications for Practice. Children such as Kevin need intensive
input and opportunity for interactions in schools, communities, and
homes to be bilingual and biliterate in English and their home language.
Parents and educators can put more effort into biliteracy and
bilingualism to achieve the highest levels of bilingualism and
biliteracy. In school settings, home language and literacy practices
should be connected and visible (Gregory & Williams, 2000; Kenner,
2000), as illustrated in quality bilingual maintenance programs. For
schools in which English is the primary or sole means of communication
and learning, educators can emphasize the value of children's home
languages and literacies. To do this, educators also should learn about
bilingual students' background knowledge, cultural repertoires, and
daily home practices through surveys, home visits, and regular
communication with family members and children (Ovando, Collier, &
Combs, 2003; Tabors, 2008). Teachers can engage children in
multiculturally themed units, such as history (of the United States and
other countries), travel, or ships from diverse cultures to connect the
content knowledge into diverse bilingual students' home culture and
language (Cheatham, Santos, & Ro, 2007).
Teachers also can group children who share the same linguistic or
cultural background and support them as they communicate in their home
language before bringing the children together again to speak English in
a large group. Developing KWL tables (Tompkins, 2006), both in their
home language and English, can help children refer to their own
background knowledge and home language in relation to academic content.
Thus, even in environments with limited or no home language use,
educators can model practices to illustrate the essential belief that
children's cultures, home languages, and associated literacies are
Similarly, families can engage in practices to facilitate home
language and literacy development. Families' consistent use of the
home language can demonstrate the value of the home language and foster
children's receptive oral competencies, even if children choose to
respond in English (Saville-Troike, 1988, 2003). Given the importance of
motivation and purposeful communication to language learning, families
can provide their children with authentic situations for home language
use, such as interactions with grandparents who do not know English, pen
pals, and opportunities to visit the parents' home country. When
possible (for example, during summer vacations), families may be able to
arrange for their children to stay in the "home country"
(e.g., Korea), where the value and purpose of the home culture and
language is transparent.
Implications for Research. The use of case study research and the
theoretical perspectives can provide a unique perspective on
children's language and literacy development in context. In
accordance with Stake (1995, 2006), in-depth study of a family may
include documenting their daily practices, spoken language and literacy
events, and assessing linguistic competencies, all of which can lead to
important insights. When this approach to research was combined with the
theoretical perspectives of Vygotsky (1978) and Wenger's (1998)
communities of practice, the dialectical process of socialization in the
family within the larger sociocultural context was illuminated.
Consequently, this study provided greater understanding of one
child's oral language and literacy practices and outcomes. Thus,
this study highlighted the value of viewing spoken language and literacy
learning as socioculturally embedded contexts within communities of
practice. Future research implementing case study methodology with a
sociocultural theoretical framework may provide greater insight into
these and other phenomena.
In conclusion, this study was based on a 10-month period out of a
six-year, ongoing qualitative case study of one Korean-American child
living in a bilingual family and attending all-English schooling.
Through case study examination, results suggested that the focal child
made gains in home language literacy proficiency as a result of tutoring
and participation in a heritage language school and his parents'
efforts. However, his home oral language competencies were decreasing,
due to a lack of home-language experiences, even as his home language
literacy abilities were slowly increasing. At the same time, his English
oral language and literacy abilities were increasing rapidly and
supplanting those of his home language.
This case study clearly points to the need for greater
opportunities for home oral language and literacy development; for
example, through more structured and intensive educational programs, as
well as through greater opportunities in the home and community to
purposefully use the home language. It is likely that only with such
support that many children will achieve bilingualism and biliteracy. We
hope this study helps other scholars and educators understand bilingual
children's perspectives, goals, hardships, contextual factors, and
practical concerns, including how we can more effectively support
children like Kevin.
(submitted 6/25/08; accepted: 9/10/08)
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