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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Moving In and Out of Bilingualism: Investigating Native Language Maintenance and Shift in Mexican-Descent Children

  • Author(s): Pease-Alvarez, Lucinda
  • et al.

Recent research has emphasized the economic, social, and cognitive advantages available to bilinguals. Yet for many immigrant groups, bilingualism is a temporary phenomenon. Most immigrant children arrive in the United States as monolingual speakers of their native language, develop bilingualism as they acquire English, establish English-speaking households, and raise their children as English-speaking monolinguals. According to survey data, even Spanish, a language thought to be particularly enduring in the United States, seldom lasts beyond the second or third generation. Despite evidence that shift toward English is occurring for many immigrant groups, most researchers have neglected to focus on the different levels at which shift occurs, the factors that influence its development, and the course it takes during individuals' lifetimes. In an effort to address these concerns, this paper reports on research that investigates native language maintenance and shift to English among 64 Mexican-descent children and their families. Although the participants in the study live in the same suburban community, they have different immigration backgrounds (Mexican-born, U.S.-born of Mexican-born parents, U.S.-born of parents who were also born in the United States.) Data sources referred to here include a variety of interviews and activities used to investigate the participants' language proficiency, attitudes, and choices.

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