Purdue University Graduate School

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Emergent Bilinguals' Literacy and Language Use across Different Contexts

posted on 2024-04-29, 20:20 authored by Sung Ae KimSung Ae Kim

Over the past decades, language and language learning research heavily relied on an individual’s innate ability or level of proficiency rather than social aspects that influence the individual’s ability to use language. Consequently, scholars of language learning research narrowly dealt with linguistic features and/or grammar within an isolated manner like the model of universal grammar (UG) proposed by Chomsky (Chomsky, 1972; Lantolf, 1994). However, socially oriented scholars have lately criticized this limited view on language learning (Garcia & Li Wei, 2014; Norton, 1995; Pennycook, 2010). From a sociocultural perspective, language becomes meaningful within the social realm because it is deeply interconnected with the social environment. This perspective calls for a new approach to research, teach, and understand bilingualism and language learning, especially the role of a bilinguals’ home language (thereafter Heritage Language) and its use in the second language (usually English) learning process (August & Shanahan, 2010; Boyle, et, al, 2015; Garcia, 2011). In the past, bilinguals’ hybrid language practices have been considered a sign of language deficiency and/or problem attributed to the HL (Creese & Blackledge, 2010, Heller, 2006, & Wei, 2011) and overlook its contribution to learning the English language and to bilingualism. Recent scholarship in language education has deviated from the form-focused approach to the critical approach. The critical approach examines bilinguals’ hybrid language practices, translanguaging, as bilinguals’ discursive and dynamic communication to make sense of the world by drawing their full linguistic and cultural repertoires (Grosjean, 2010; Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2015).

This dissertation specifically examines in what ways a student’s use of two languages contributes to advancing their academic and social goals throughout their education. I analyze Korean emergent bilinguals’ language and literacy use across different contexts: public elementary school, the Korean heritage language school, home, and local churches, to understand how emergent bilingual 1st graders engage in their learning process. Drawing on a qualitative case study with four Korean emergent bilinguals, the data include over 106 hours of participant observation and transcripts of audio recordings across four contexts and interviews with students, parents, and teachers. Using thematic analysis, I code in what ways various social contexts influence bilinguals’ translanguaging practices and in what ways individual children reveal their linguistic and cultural identities in their oral and written communication. This dissertation demonstrates that bilinguals utilize a myriad of translanguaging practices to achieve various social and linguistic goals and to accommodate different social contexts.

In conclusion, this dissertation provides substantial contributions to language literacy education in two ways: to use translanguaging practices for communicative and linguistic purposes, and to maintain HL for English language development. First, this study supports the reconciliation of the two premises of language learning. Emergent bilinguals’ flexible use of linguistic and cultural resources demonstrates that “linguistic and cultural knowledge are constructed through each other and language-acquiring children are active and selective agents in both process” (Watson-Gegeo & Nielsen, 2003, p. 165). As discussed, translanguaging not only offers new insight into bilingual education in different learning contexts but also reveals bilinguals’ hidden language repertoires and the diverse cultural knowledge that bilinguals possess. Second, this study adds to our understanding of language maintenance in a larger society by exploring a small community of Korean emergent bilinguals in the Midwestern United States.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Curriculum and Instruction

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Wayne E. Wright

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Trish Morita-Mullaney

Additional Committee Member 2

Tony Silva

Additional Committee Member 3

Judith Lysaker

Additional Committee Member 4

Virak Chan