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Saturday-School Participation, Ethnic Identity and Japanese Language Development

Kiyomi Chinen and G. Richard Tucker, Carnegie Mellon University


There is much speculation about the purported positive role played by participation in Heritage Language education programs on the development of target language proficiency, but surprisingly little robust data on the topic. The purpose of our brief paper is to outline a procedure for collecting quantitative and qualitative data that will illuminate the relationship among variables such as Saturday-school participation, ethnic identity, subjective ethnolinguistic vitality, attitudes and motivation, and Japanese language development among a cohort of second-generation HL students residing in the Los Angeles area. We believe that a series of planned-variation studies on this topic systematically examining factors, such as those described below, would be useful and informative.(1)

General Research Questions

In this section, we identify two major research questions that address the relationship between participation in HL programs and Japanese language development for second-generation HL students. For each we specify several assessment issues that need to be addressed in order to respond to the question, and we suggest potential data-collection instruments. In the following section, we describe a procedure that we believe will be useful for examining this general topic.

Question 1: How does participation in a Japanese HL program in the Los Angeles area affect second generation Japanese teen-age students’ ethnic identity, attitudes and motivation toward the learning of Japanese, and development of, or changes in, Japanese proficiency?

  • How can one accurately and adequately assess ethnic identity among Japanese teen-age students? We believe that a modified form of the Multigroup Measure of Ethnic Identity (Phinney 1992) is a useful measure for this purpose.
  • How can one accurately and adequately assess attitudes and motivation among Japanese teen-age students? We believe that the short form of the modified Attitude and Motivation Test Battery (AMTB) that has been developed by Gardner and his associates (1999) and used widely throughout the world will be useful for these purposes (see also Masgoret 2002).
  • How can one accurately and adequately assess Japanese language growth among Japanese teen-age students? We believe that a modified form of self-assessment such as that developed by Clark (1981), Lambert (1994) or Lee (2002) might be useful, particularly if supplemented by the classroom teacher’s use of the FLOSEM (Padilla and Sung 1999). However, this is the part of the study that poses the most uncertainty and greatest concern for us since we believe that the language education profession has yet to grapple successfully with the issue of the valid and reliable measurement of the language development of HL students from diverse backgrounds.

Question 2: What socio-cultural, demographic or other factors should be examined in order to situate and describe appropriately the contribution of participation in the HL program to the teen-age students’ Japanese maintenance? We propose that it would be desirable to collect information about variables such as ethnolinguistic vitality and community patterns of language use and support.

  • How can one measure the “vitality” of the Japanese community in which the students reside? We believe that a modified form of the Subjective Vitality Questionnaire developed by Bourhis, Giles and Rosenthal (1981) and further adapted by Allard and Landry (1986) is a useful tool for this purpose.
  • What types of background information should be collected from students, teachers, school administrators, parents, grandparents and other community members to adequately and accurately describe patterns of language use and language support in the school and in the community as a backdrop against which to interpret data from Q1? We propose that a modified form of the Language Contact Profile developed by Dewey (2002) will be a useful tool for this purpose.

Illustrative Methodology

The following study is one approach to addressing the research questions. The general plan would be to collect information such as that described above from a representative sample of 50 second generation Japanese HL students who participate in a Saturday-school program operated under the aegis of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. This student information would be collected through use of bilingual (Japanese and English) questionnaires as well as through personal interviews. A stratified sample of students could be selected for further in-depth personal interviewing. Information would also be collected from the parents and the teachers of these focus students. An attempt would be made to describe in some detail the community, home and school environment in which these students were living and studying and then relate this information to the students’ maintenance or development of Japanese. (In an ideal situation, it would be possible to identify a cohort of “twinned students” in which one child was participating in the Saturday-school program, and the other was not; but such a design is not likely to be feasible in reality.) A variety of regression analyses could be performed with the quantitative data (e.g., looking at the effects of variables such as ethnic identity, attitudes and motivation, etc. on HL development). The qualitative data could then be used to enrich and to inform our understanding of the community and the results of the quantitative assessment.

Limitations of Such a Study

It is obvious that there would be many limitations to such a study as that proposed here (e.g., an examination within the Japanese community rather than the Chinese or Korean communities; an examination of one particular community, Los Angeles, as opposed to many others in which the actual or perceived salience of the group might be different; the choice of this school which offers a particular approach to HL instruction (there are in fact at least five different models of Japanese schools active in the United States and this study would only examine the effects of one such model), etc.). Nonetheless, we believe that a series of studies along the lines of the one proposed here might well contribute to our general understanding of the phenomena of HL development or maintenance.


1. The first of such studies is currently being conducted by Kiyomi Chinen (Heritage Language Development: Understanding the Roles of Ethnic Identity, Attitudes, Motivation, Schooling and Community Factors, doctoral dissertation in progress, Carnegie Melon University).(BACK)

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