The Long-Term English Language and Literacy Outcomes of First-Generation Former Child Immigrants in the United States
by Becky H. Huang & Alison L. Bailey — 2016
Background/Context: Children from Asian ethnic backgrounds currently constitute the second largest group of child immigrants in the United States. Although stereotyped as model minority students due to their academic and economic success, studies have revealed that many Asian immigrant students struggle in school. Research has also shown that, compared to child immigrants from an Indo-European language background such as Spanish and French, Asian child immigrants experience more challenges in learning English as a second language (L2) due to greater cross-linguistic differences. However, little is known about the long-term English language outcomes of first-generation Asian child immigrants.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The present study examines the effects of learner-level and input-level factors on first-generation Asian child immigrants’ long-term English outcomes.
Research Design: Data for the current study are selected from a larger correlational and cross-sectional study that examined the effect of the age of arrival variable on Chinese immigrants’ English L2 outcomes. We used two criteria to select participants from the larger study: (1) those who had arrived in the United States between the ages of 5 to 18 (to qualify as a “child immigrant”), and (2) those who had resided in the United States for at least 10 years (to examine long-term outcomes). These criteria resulted in the current sample of 69 participants. The English language proficiency data include participants’ phonological production ratings, performances on a grammaticality judgment task, and their self-ratings of English proficiency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The current study showed a complex interplay of factors affecting former child immigrants’ English L2 acquisition. Although age of arrival played a critical role in their L2 learning outcomes, it exerted varying degrees of influence by L2 domain. Age of arrival was a strong predictor of L2 phonological production, grammar knowledge, and oral language proficiency, but not literacy skills. L2 input, language learning aptitude, and child immigrants’ affective status also contributed to their L2 outcomes, and carried more weight than age of arrival. We interpreted the results to be in line with the multiple sensitive period hypothesis in developmental psycholinguistics research. The results also suggested that literacy is not susceptible to age-related effects in the same way in which oral language and more specifically the phonological and syntactic systems are. Literacy as a cultural construct rather than a biologically unique human system is intensively taught throughout the school years and curriculum. Malleable factors, such as instruction and reading strategies, are thus perhaps more important in determining child immigrants’ long-term literacy outcomes.
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