Title: Determining Individual Language Proficiencies and Practices in El Paso and Juarez
María Blume (UTEP) & Ellen H. Courtney (UTEP)
Lab (s) Name (s)
UTEP Language Acquisition Research Lab (LARL)
Paso, Texas, USA and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico
English and Spanish
Project Initiated August 2005
GENERAL PROJECT DESCRIPTION
Language proficiencies fall along a spectrum in the El Paso-Juarez border region, with monolingual English and Spanish at the extremes, and varying levels and types of bilingualism in the middle. In the present study, we wish to determine the language proficiencies and practices of monolingual and bilingual children and adults in El Paso and Juarez, with a view to creating a database for research projects. Additionally, we feel that such a database will be a significant contribution to the administrators and teachers at the participating schools. As fascinating as the regional proficiency spectrum is for researchers investigating bilingualism, it is also a source of frustration. On the one hand there is no specific information available at schools about the language proficiencies and practices of children. We have observed at some El Paso schools that neither the teachers nor the administrators can provide an accurate description of individual children’s language proficiencies. Consequently, some children reported to be monolingual speakers of English or Spanish turn out to be bilingual. Moreover, children designated as bilingual have a wide range of proficiency levels. On the other hand, adult bilingual speakers may sometimes report lower levels of proficiencies in both languages than they actually have due to misconceptions of code-switching (i.e. believing that they code-switch because they do not know either of the two languages properly). For this reason, it is difficult—perhaps impossible—to carry out reliable research studies that depend on knowledge of an individual’s language background. Because accurate determination of language proficiencies is crucial to research exploring bilingualism, we need to know ahead of time the capabilities of potential participants. Additionally, with so little information about their students’ language proficiencies and practices, schools will surely benefit from having such a database for administrative and educational purposes. The research team asks parents of elementary school children, aged 5 to 12 years, in El Paso and Juarez to complete questionnaires designed to determine the language proficiencies and practices of their children. A similar questionnaire is being given to adults about their own language proficiencies. All participants are helped in filling out the extensive questionnaire by one of the lab members. Using the information provided on the questionnaires, the research team will prepare a database with information about the language proficiencies and practices of each participant. The database will be kept as a computer file in UTEP’s Language Acquisition Research Lab (Liberal Arts Building) for future planning of research projects. Participating schools will also be provided with the database for any purposes they deem fit.
PURPOSES OF THE PROJECT
The research team plans to use the database for the following purposes: (1) to select individual children and adults as participants in subsequent research projects approved by the participating school district; (2) to share information from the database with fellow researchers elsewhere in the country without revealing the identity of individual children and parents; (3) to carry out statistical and qualitative analyses for publication in journals and at conferences, without revealing the identity of individual children and parents.
RATIONALE AND AGENDA
CURRENT STATUS OF PROJECT
We have collected the first set of data (27 children and 31 adults),and we are entering the information in a database we have created. Questionnaire sessions will resume in the Fall 2007.
Graduate students: Tetyana Zhyvotovska, Elsa Aguilar, and Jennifer Mansour Undergraduate Students: Luis Caballero, Juan Contreras, Martha Domínguez, Félix Fernández, Luisa López, Melissa Lugo, Martha Rayas, Raquel Salazar.