Ethnic Identity and Acculturation of English as Second Language Learners: Implications for School Counselors

By Maldonado, Jose M.; Kushner, Jason D. et al. | Michigan Journal of Counseling, Spring-Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Ethnic Identity and Acculturation of English as Second Language Learners: Implications for School Counselors


Maldonado, Jose M., Kushner, Jason D., Barr, Jason, Korz, Kelly, Michigan Journal of Counseling


Identity is a crucial part of an individual's self-concept as defined by Tajfel (1981) and thus influenced by theoretical areas of: (a) racial identity; (b) ego identity; and (c) ethnic identity. According to Lee (2001) significant increases in multicultural populations have given importance to understanding the commonalties and differences of racial and ethnic groups. Several research studies (Phinney, 1990, 1992; Pugh & Hart, 1999) have examined the role of ethnic identity, which pertains to the sense of belonging to an ethnic group and the thoughts associated with that particular ethnic group (Rotherman & Phinney, 1987). Acculturation and ethnic identity have been argued to have reciprocal relationships and are associated with immigrant people transitioning to a new society. Van de Vijver and Phalet (2004) indicate that in recent times there have been significant changes in population migration and labor mobility that have forced people to move to other countries other than their place of origin. The immigration process is often an arduous and difficult one, which brings division from recognizable cultural and social institutions.

According to Gibson (2001) acculturation can be defined as "the process of cultural change and adaptation that occurs when individuals from different cultures come into contact with each other" (p. 19). As noted in Phinney, Horenczyck, Liebkind, and Vedder (2001) acculturation is a process of adaptation along two important dimensions: (a) the adoption of ideals, values, and behaviors of the receiving culture, and (b) the retention of values, ideals and beliefs from the immigrant person's country of origin. Berry (2001) found that two central issues of acculturation are (a) the degree to which individuals have contact outside their group and (b) to the degree which individuals want to give up or maintain their cultural attributes. Furthermore, he suggests that there is a mutual relationship of exchange between majority and minority cultures and outlines four acculturation strategies. The strategies are (a) integration, representing an interest in maintaining one's heritage culture and being involved with other cultures, (b) assimilation, representing desired involvement with other cultures, not with heritage culture, (c) separation, representing only desired involvement with one's heritage culture, and (d) marginalization, representing rejection of both cultures (Berry, 2001). The focal point is the process of acculturation for English as Second Language students whose primary residence is a foreign country.

English as a Second Language Students

There has been momentous growth in the United States of students whose primary mode of communication is not the English language. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000), there is significant population growth of English as second language learners in public schools nationwide. According to Berliner and Biddle (1997) by the year 2020, U.S. demographic projections estimate that only 50 percent of school-age children will be of European-American descent. In addition, Branigin (1996) indicates that by the year 2030, language minority students will represent 40 percent of the students in U.S. schools. By the year 2050, the total U.S. population will have doubled from its present levels, with approximately one-third of the increase attributed to immigration.

Vaughn, et al (2006) found that English language learners are the fastest growing group in the U.S. public schools and Spanish speaking students represent the highest number of ESL students. The U.S. Department of Education (2002) indicates that there are four million students with limited English proficiency and nearly 80 percent identifying as Latino and another 20 percent representing other languages. In addition, ESL students account for 10.5 percent of the population in U.S. elementary schools. As a result, teachers, administrators, and school counselors face challenges and obstacles addressing the specified needs ESL students face in the school environment. …

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