Developing in Two Languages: Korean Children in America

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Apr 3 19:27:48 UTC 2005

Forwarded from LINGUIST List 16.1006
Sat Apr 02 2005

Bilingualism/Child Lang Acquisition: Kang (2004)

Reviewed by Hyun-Sook Kang <>
Developing in Two Languages

AUTHOR: Shin, Sarah J
TITLE: Developing in Two Languages
SUBTITLE: Korean Children in America
SERIES: Child Language & Child Development
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004 Announced at

Hyun-Sook Kang
Educational Linguistics, Graduate School of Education, The University
of Pennsylvania


This book is the first-ever attempt to examine early childhood
bilingualism in the Korean community in the United States. Beyond serving
as an empirical account of the language situation of Korean immigrant
children and their families, this book aims to argue, "the bilingualism of
linguistic minority children is a resource to be cultivated and not a
problem to be overcome" (pp. 2-3). As is the multifaceted nature of
bilingualism, the book covers a wide range of linguistic, social, cultural
and educational factors in the language development of Korean-American

This volume comprises seven chapters, along with an Introduction in which
Shin provides an outline of the book, and situates her position as a
1.5-generation Korean-American immigrant, a former ESL learner, a teacher
educator and a parent with young children. She expresses her concern that
her insider position might have drawn her to become myopic about the
significance of everyday acts surrounding the language situation in the
Korean-American community. Despite her reservations, the detailed account
of someone who has lived through the language situation from multiple
perspectives is very convincing.

Chapter 1 reviews various paradigms of bilingualism ranging from a
conversational analysis approach to the codeswitching phenomenon, a
psycholinguistic perspective on child language acquisition and a
sociolinguistic approach to maintenance and loss of a home language.
Grosjean's (1985, 1989) sociolinguistic definition of a bilingual is
adopted: "the bilingual uses the two languages for different purposes in
different circumstances" (pp.17-8). To study Korean-American children's
codeswitching behavior, Auer's (1984, 1991, 1995)  conversational analysis
approach is employed, and its rationale and advantages are discussed.
Drawing upon McLaughlin's (1978)  distinction, the developmental processes
underlying two types of bilingual language acquisition (i.e., simultaneous
and successive) are discussed. Shin uses Cummins' (1996) framework to
discuss bilingual education models (i.e., transitional vs. maintenance)
and the effects of the bilingual programs on student achievement. The
review of the various conceptual frameworks on bilingualism sets a stage
for investigating multiple dimensions of bilingualism in Korean-American

In Chapter 2, the historical, societal and linguistic details of the
Korean community in the US are provided. The review of the history of
Korean immigration to the US and description of the demographic and social
characteristics of Korean Americans help us understand the background of
first-generation Korean parents' emphasis on their children's success in
the U.S. formal education and English acquisition. It is pointed out that
the lack of accent-free English skills hindered many Korean immigrants
from obtaining jobs in the US commensurate with their educational levels
and gaining access to the mainstream U.S. society. The social networking
patterns centered around the Korean Christian churches and the
sociolinguistic situations of Koreans in the US, including America-born
and - educated Koreans, reflect their limitations in participating in the
mainstream society beyond the Korean-American community. Given the stark
cross-linguistic differences between English and Korean, a full mastery of
English is a challenging task despite Korean parents' intense desire and
efforts. The enormous pressures Korean parents experience in tandem with
the importance of English as a means to advance in the wider society
attribute to language shift in the Korean- American community.

Chapter 3 describes the sources and collection methods of data that serve
as a basis for the discussion in the following chapters: (1)  spontaneous
speech data of 12 Korean American first-grade children in the mainstream
classroom in a New York City public school; (2)  experimental language
data elicited from the 12 Korean American children; (3) survey data from
251 Korean American parents with school-age children; and (4) follow-up
interviews with selected survey respondents and their children. In the
three ensuing chapters, Shin discusses the major findings of three
empirical studies: Chapter 4 on Korean children's codeswitching; Chapter 5
on the children's development of Korean morphemes; and Chapter 6 on the
survey and interview on parental attitudes towards language maintenance
and shift.

Chapter 4 analyzes the Korean-American children's codeswitching in the
mainstream classroom with a sequential conversational analytic framework
(Auer, 1984, 1995). With respect to participant-related codeswitching, it
was revealed that when English was the preferred language of one of the
children in the conversation, it usually took over the other participant's
preference for Korean. This was interpreted as evidence of the Korean
children's socialization into the language and culture of the mainstream
American classroom, as well as the status of English as the more powerful,
socially recognized language. More proficient bilinguals adapt to the
linguistic needs of limited English proficient peers by switching to
Korean, suggesting that bilingual children's codeswitching serves the same
communicative purpose as gestural or prosodic cues by monolinguals. In
regard to discourse-related codeswitching, the Korean American bilingual
children switch the languages at their disposal to coordinate turn-
taking, preference organization and repairs and signal side sequences
during the completion of classroom activities. Overall, it was argued that
codeswitching is a valuable linguistic strategy used by the bilingual
children, not a communicative deficit.

By looking at the Korean-American children's acquisition of English
grammatical morphemes, Chapter 5 addresses the differences between first-
and second-language learners of English in acquiring the English
grammatical features and language-specific influences on L2 acquisition.
First, the differences in rank order of acquisition of English morphemes
between Spanish- and Chinese-speaking children on the one hand and
Korean-speaking children on the other, and the correlations between the
Japanese and Korean children were presented as supporting evidence for the
influences of L1 structures on the course of L2 acquisition (Korean is
typologically closer to Japanese than Spanish or Chinese.) In addition, it
was noted that the bilingual children's acquisition of variant word order
in Korean is influenced by their knowledge of English word order, given
that a child L2 learner is still in the process of acquiring the L2 while
learning the L2. The observation that the bilingual children lag behind
their monolingual counterparts in terms of the grammatical development of
Korean (e.g., their persistent use of the most unmarked Korean classifier)
and English (e.g., their frequent errors in English plural marking) was
interpreted as a result of the divided use of a language (e.g., Korean at
home and English at school), and argued to be temporary if only the
appropriate psychological, cultural and educational support is provided.
Given the subtractive bilingual context in which the Korean-American
children are placed, it is readily expected that these children would
speak increasingly smaller amounts of Korean and eventually only have a
passive knowledge of their native language while achieving a full
competence in English.

On the basis of the questionnaire results that language shift within the
Korean American family is underway, Chapter 6 discusses the personal,
social and educational factors that contribute to the language shift in
the Korean American families and community. It was revealed that the
extent of language shift was highly related to the degree of the
respondents' exposure to English, indicated by the length of residence in
the US and respondents' age at immigration. On a personal level, the
Korean American parents, who see their lack of English skills as
constraining their participation in the wider American society, are
determined to see their kids develop strong English skills at the expense
of losing the home language while they recognize the intrinsic linguistic
and cultural value of maintaining Korean. On a social level, immigrant
parents' perception that English is critical for academic and social
success in America and that the attainment of unaccented, fluent English
is often equated with prestige in the Korean American community are
suggested as reasons for language shift. Finally, the consequences of
advice given to immigrant parents by well-meaning but ill-informed
professionals (e.g., teachers, doctors and speech therapists) to abandon
the native language at home, as well as the effects of English-only
policies on the education of language minority children were pointed out
as social factors to speed up the pace of language shift. Despite the
enormous pressures for language shift, Shin keeps an optimistic view on
heritage language maintenance, and goes on to make suggestions.

Chapter 7 provides suggestions for successful transfer and maintenance of
heritage languages in the family, community and societal levels. Shin
starts with a list of recommendations for intergenerational transmission
of home languages, and moves on to the community level. After discussing
the role and contributions of heritage schools in minority language
maintenance in America to date, she offers suggestions for effective
instruction and teacher development in community-based heritage schools.
She further suggests integration of Korean as a foreign language subject
and even Korean-English dual language programs to enhance the positive
attitude to the ethnic culture and language and bilingual development.
On the societal level, she points out a need to achieve a diverse teaching
population, referring to the predominance of white teachers in contrast to
the ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity in the student population in
schools. She concludes the book, urging parents, communities and educators
"to be aware of the processes of bilingual development and convinced of
the tremendous resources that linguistic minority children bring to our
schools and society."


Shin does an excellent job of accurately depicting the lived stories of
the language situation in the Korean American community and disseminating
academic research findings to a wider readership using her personal
experiences as a 1.5-generation Korean-American, a teacher educator and a
parent of school-aged children. I could not agree more with her
observations, interpretations and arguments, drawing on the cultural,
historical and linguistic backgrounds peculiar to the Korean American
community. This volume will be helpful in courses on Asian American
studies, sociolinguistics and teacher- education courses among many

Despite the strengths, this book has some shortcomings. One of the flaws
concerns the organization: there seems to be little or no explicit
connections among the three empirical studies constituting the book.  As
summarized earlier, the three studies address different dimensions of
bilingualism drawing on distinctive conceptual frameworks. Other than
looking at the participants from the same ethnic group in the US, there is
no common ground linking the codeswitching behavior, morpheme development
and language attitude issues, nor an explicit rationale given for
selecting the three topics. Additionally, there is no direct connection
between the empirical study findings (presented in Chapters 4, 5 and 6)
and the practical recommendations for parents, educators and policy makers
(given in Chapter 7). It might have been nice if there was tighter
coherence embracing the three respective studies, and connecting the study
findings and analyses with the implications and practical suggestions

In light of the data collection method, three issues stand out. First,
there was little or no information about the Korean-American children's
language input and use outside of the classroom, as well as the baseline
data about the children's proficiency at the outset of the study. The
spontaneous speech data were collected in the early-exit transitional
bilingual education program in which the Korean children were enrolled. It
is not surprising that English is the preferred language under the
supervision of the teacher in the mainstream classroom, as evidenced by
the observation that some Korean children chose to speak only English and
that only a small portion of the speech data constituted codeswitching. A
question arises about children's codeswitching behavior among peers
outside of the classroom. To track the bilingual children's development in
the two languages, as addressed in the experimental study, it might have
been necessary to provide baseline data, specifically about their stage in
terms of morpheme acquisition, beyond the school-administered test scores
and the teacher's observations (p. 70). A second problem is that there
were no interview or questionnaire data on the participating children's
parents' attitudes and beliefs toward bilingualism or language practices
at home. Though the purpose of the survey study was "to supplement the
findings from the children's language data," (p.79), there was no direct
link between the studies on children's codeswitching behavior and
bilingual development and the parental attitudes toward bilingualism. On a
related matter, a third issue is the wide range of age among survey
participants, i.e., 32-54 years old. Given the original purpose of the
survey as an investigation of school-age parents' attitude toward language
education, and the length of U.S. residence and age at arrival in the US
as the two major factors that contribute to parental attitude, it is
plausible that the 22- year range among the survey participants came into
play in the survey results.

Finally, despite the depth of the analyses and discussions focusing on the
Korean-American group, this book seems rather parochial in the scope. At
different points throughout the volume, the Korean- American was referred
to as "a significant ethnic group in the US,"  a "model minority," and so
on. It was stated that Korean Americans constitute "the fifth largest
population in the Asian and Pacific ethnic"  without information of how
large the Asian and Pacific ethnic population is in the US today. Previous
research, in fact, revealed that some young Korean-American students,
overshadowed by a small fraction of over-achieving fellow students from
the same ethnic group, suffer from the perceived high expectations (Lee,
1994, 1996).  Although the author's effort was deeply understood to
convince readers of the importance of her research findings and arguments,
it might have been nicer to situate the current findings about the Korean-
American community in the wider landscape of bilingualism. It might have
been interesting to relate the current findings to the language situations
in other ethnic and linguistic minority groups in the US or those in
Korean communities in other countries outside of Korea.

Though the organizational, methodological and narrow-scope issues remain,
the book as a whole does a superb job in portraying the lived facts of
Korean immigrants in the US and their conflicts on the transmission and
maintenance of a heritage language, as well as offering practical
suggestions for parents, teachers and policy makers in achieving


Auer, P. (1984). Bilingual Conversation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Auer, P. (1991). Bilingualism in/as social action: A sequential
approach to code-switching. Paper read at the ESF Symposium on
Code-Switching in Bilingual Studies: Theory, Significance and
Perspectives, Barcelona, 21-23 March.

Auer, P. (1995). The pragmatics of code-switching: a sequential
approach. In L. Milroy and P. Muysken (Eds.). One Speaker, Two
Languages: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives on Code-switching.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cummins, J. (1996). Negotiation Identities: Education for
Empowerment in a Diverse Society. Ontario, CA: California
Association for Bilingual Education.

Grosjean, F. (1985). The bilingual as a competent but specific
speaker-hearer. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
6, 467-77.

Grosjean, F. (1989). Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two
monolingual in one person. Brain and Language 36, 3-15.

Lee, S. (1994). Behind the model-minority stereotype: Voices of high-
and low-achieving Asian American students. Anthropology and Education
Quarterly 25(4):

Lee, S. (1996). Unraveling the Model-Minority Stereotype: Voices of
High and Low Achieving Asian American Students. New York:
Teachers College Press.

McLaughlin, B. (1978). The monitor model: Some methodological
considerations. Language Learning 28, 309-332.


Hyun-Sook Kang is a Ph.D. candidate in Educational Linguistics in the
University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. She is
currently working on her dissertation on the relative efficacy of
different types of corrective feedback as an instructional condition in
learning Korean as a foreign/heritage language at the university level.
Her research interests include childhood bilingualism, language and
culture and applications of technology to language learning and

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