Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Language as Investment, Capital, and Economics: Spanish-Speaking English Learners' Language Use and Attitudes

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Language as Investment, Capital, and Economics: Spanish-Speaking English Learners' Language Use and Attitudes

Article excerpt


Drawing on the notion of investment in language and identity, the concept of language as capital, and the theory of language as part of economics, this study explores California high-school Spanish-speaking English learners' use of Spanish and English at home, at school, and in the ESL class, and their perceptions on these two languages. Analysis of 37 survey responses reveals that the participants did not have an either-or attitude toward the languages they spoke and concurrently claimed frequent use of and even fluency in the societal language and their heritage language. They did not have a simplistic notion of linguistic identity and simultaneously claimed the English-speaking identity, the Spanish-speaking identity, and the bilingual identity. The results indicate that, rather than a sign of second language insufficiency, bilingual language use in and outside of the ESL class served as an intentional investment in language development and maintenance, identity construction, and preparation for participation in the multilingual marketplace in the internationalized new economy. ESL instructors are encouraged to recognize and acknowledge the role of bilingual language use in class and to create a supportive classroom environment that builds on the linguistic and cultural capital of English learners and fosters the development of both languages into literate, academic and professional capacity.

Keywords: language use, language attitudes, Hispanic, Spanish, English learners, identity, linguistic capital, Investment

1. Introduction

Recent literature on language use has documented U.S. Spanish-speaking students' different patterns of linguistic practices with parents and with siblings. Hasson (2006) carried out a survey with 202 bilingual Hispanic undergraduate students in south Florida. Among other results, she found that 40.1% participants reported speaking Spanish with parents while merely 3% reported speaking Spanish with siblings. On the other hand, 48.2% of informants stated that they spoke English with siblings whereas only 13.9% stated that they spoke English with parents. Overall, more participants (62.1%) used English with parents and siblings at home compared with Spanish (43.1% of participants).

Research on language attitudes of Spanish-English bilingual students demonstrated positive views on bilingual language use in the classroom. Lee (2006) surveyed 280 Latino students enrolled in bilingual classes in seven middle schools (Grades 6-8) in Southern California for their perceptions on bilingual education. 90% of his participants considered bilingual classes helpful to their educational experience. 74% responded positively to the use of both Spanish and English in the classroom. 79% believed that learning in two languages did not interfere with their development of English.

While the research findings on language use and on language attitudes of Spanish-speaking Latinos are impressive, little has been done to explore both together. Additionally, research on English and Spanish use and on language attitudes of Latino students has examined bilingual speakers. Little has been said about English learner (EL) students, "who speak a language other than English at home and who are not proficient in English" (Jepsen & Alth, 2005, p. v) and are enrolled in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes. In California schools, the number of Spanish-speaking English Learners (ELs) has increased rapidly in recent years. International Journal of English Linguistics Vol. 2, No. 6; 2012 2 According to the California Department of Education's (2012) report on the number of ELs by language for 2010-2011, 874 544 (82.7%) of the total 1 057 075 ELs spoke Spanish as their primary language. With these Spanish-speaking EL students, what is happening with their language development and maintenance? What languages do they speak at home, at school, and in the ESL class? How do they perceive the use of different languages in class and in the society at large? …

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