Biculturalism & Its Relationship to English Language Learners

Instructor: Frank Clint

Frank has been an educator for over 10 years. He has a doctorate degree in education with a concentration in curriculum and instruction.

English language learners often are part of two cultures. This lesson looks at bicultural identity and its relationship to bilingualism. Then it explores some of the advantages and disadvantages of cultural duality on students.

Bicultural Identity

Jenny is a Mexican-American high school senior in El Paso, Texas. Like many of the students at her high school, she is bicultural, which means she integrates within herself both the culture of her Mexican grandparents and the culture of her native country, the United States. Jenny functions well in both cultures but being bicultural is not easy for everyone. It may even cause conflict within a person when it becomes difficult to assimilate into one or both cultures.

Bilingualism, or having the ability to speak two languages, often directly relates to biculturalism because communication is key to participation in a culture. In Jenny's case, she reads, writes and speaks fluently in English and Spanish. She learned Spanish at home from her parents and grandparents as a child and later took Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish courses at her high school. Throughout her school years, she has been enrolled in monolingual classrooms where she has learned to speak, read and write in English. In some cases, students enter bilingual education programs where they learn both in English and their native language. Some bilingual programs stress moving students from their native language to English.

As a successful bicultural, bilingual student, Jenny has experienced the benefits of cultural duality, while some of her peers have encountered its disadvantages. Let's take a closer look.

Advantages of Cultural Duality on Students

Culture can involve different components, such as religion, language, food and traditions. Jenny gets a double dose of culture because she is comfortable with American ideas and customs, but her socialization comes from her family. She is exposed to the traditions carried over from Mexico such as holidays and customs. For example, she celebrated her 'quinceañera,' a special party that is customary for Mexican girls on their fifteenth birthdays, a couple years ago. The celebration is similar to a debutante ball in the United States, more common in upper-class society in the past.

Jenny loves to learn about other cultures. Research has shown that being bicultural gives students more empathy for different cultures and people. Learning both English and their native language can lead to more success in the United States

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