Bilingualism and educational achievement : a study of young bilinguals in Birmingham schools and colleges
This study aimed firstly to investigate current patterns of language use amongst young bilinguals in Birmingham and secondly to examine the relationship between this language use and educational achievement. The research then focussed on various practices, customs and attitudes which would favour the attrition or survival of minority languages in the British situation. The data necessary to address this question was provided by a sample of three hundred and seventy-four 16-19 year olds, studying in Birmingham schools and colleges during the period 1987-1990 and drawn from the main linguistic minority communities in Birmingham. The research methods chosen were both quantitative and qualitative. The study found evidence of ethnolinguistic vitality amongst many of the linguistic minority communities in Birmingham: a number of practices and a range of attitudes indicate that linguistic diversity may continue and that a stable diglossic situation may develop in some instances, particularly where demographical and religious factors lead to closeness of association. Where language attrition is occurring it is often because of the move from a less prestigious minority language or dialect to a more prestigious minority language in addition to pressures from English. The educational experience of the sample indicates that literacy and formal language study are of key importance if personal bilingualism is to be experienced as an asset; high levels of oral proficiency in the L1 and L2 do not, on their own, necessarily correlate with positive educational benefit. The intervening variable associated with educational achievement appears to be the formal language learning process and literacy. A number of attitudes and practices, including the very close associations maintained with some of the countries of origin of the families, were seen to aid or hinder first language maintenance and second language acquisition.