Bilingual and biliterate by choice: profiles of successful Latino high school seniors
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The lives of eleven Latino subjects meeting strict language proficiency criteria were examined as individuals, students, peers, family members, and as members of their community. The students became bilingual and biliterate over time, having arrived in the United States as children with limited English proficiency. Factors believed to have contributed to their bilingual status were categorized in the areas of home, school, individual and society. These were identified through questionnaire, interviews and accountings of academic histories. Language proficiency was measured with story retelling tasks in each language, and scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and Spanish Advanced Placement exams. Each subject became bilingual and biliterate through varied and complex circumstances. The data revealed factors that interacted in different ways for each of the subjects although they reached the same results of bilingualism and biliteracy. Two factors, however, were present in each case. One was the use of Spanish in the homes as the dominant language of the parents, and the other was the participation in Spanish language arts classes in high school. The subjects exhibited values such as loyalty to the family, respect for elders and figures of authority, a strong work ethic, and a positive perception of both the Latino identity and the Spanish language. They had all been instructed in bilingual education programs. The Spanish language arts program at the high school provided the subjects with a challenging curriculum in Spanish. They shared the perception that the high school as well as society regarded them with respect as bilingual and biliterate Latinos. The subjects held a strong image of themselves as Latinos proud to be mastering English while educated in both languages. All eleven subjects believed that Spanish was integral to their lives and that learning English did not have to be at the expense of the continued development of Spanish.
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