Language and immigrant children: an ethnography

This ethnographic study is about the educational and social experiences of an immigrant Guatemalan middle school student. Through interviews with the student, her family, and her reading teacher, we see the emerging picture of a student learning a second language (Spanish) in order to learn the target language (English). This student's English language acquisition takes place without the use of Canjobal, a Mayan dialect, and her primary language. She receives her core curriculum instruction in Spanish as result of her placement in a bilingual program. Research cited in this paper includes studies verifying the importance of primary language development in the acquisition of a second language. This study shows this student's rate of English language acquisition to be slower than the rate of English language acquisition by native Spanish-speakers following the same bilingual program. The social experiences of this student present two main themes: cultural dissonance and a gender related double standard. These themes manifest themselves at school, affecting the student's educational experiences. The intended effect of this applied research paper is to help teachers and administrators understand some of the issues non-Spanish-speaking, indigenous immigrant students bring with them to the school setting.