CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS

    At the present time, there is a trend that more adults throughout the United States are entering or reentering college (Cross, 1981; Marienau & Chickering, 1986). In Puerto Rico, this phenomenon is occurring in all parts of the island. Many adults are returning to college in search of experiences that will help them obtain the skills they need to acquire better job opportunities. In addition, many job promotions and certifications require college degrees. Other adult students are returning for the pleasure and self-satisfaction of reaching goals they have postponed due to the twists and turns of life. Some adults look forward to further education as an opportunity to make their lives more meaningful by meeting new people and sharing new ideas. Women who have dedicated many years to child rearing have decided to return to college now that their children are at school (Cross, 1981; Huddleston & Hendry, 1983). No matter what their specific purposes may be, students are required to take several courses in the English language in all college programs in Puerto Rico.

    For the past few years, I have been a teacher of English as a Second Language [ESL] at the college level for both students entering from high school and for returning adults. These students were required to study English throughout their twelve years in elementary and secondary schools. In spite of this, and the fact that some of the students have interrupted their studies to spend some time on the United States mainland or have had other experiences in English?speaking environments, most college students have limited English proficiency. It has been my experience that returning adult students are very serious in their approach to learning English, but that in spite of their efforts, learning the English language still seems to present difficulties for many of them. Some students express feelings about past experiences studying English that seem to affect their attitudes toward learning English today. My desire to understand the past and current experiences of learning English from my students' point of view has inspired this study of adult second?language learners.

    The teaching and learning of English as a second language in Puerto Rico have occasioned much controversy during the past 100 years for various reasons. An examination of Puerto Rico's historical development reveals that many sociocultural events have affected the attitudes of Puerto Ricans toward learning the English language (Lombard, 1992; Lopez Yustos, 1984; Maldonado Denis, 1973; Viñas, 1973; Walsh, 1991). The imposition of English on the island by the United States in 1903 was accepted unwillingly by most Puerto Ricans. From that time to the present, the people of the island have expressed a spectrum of attitudes about learning English. Some accept the English
language, while others hold a less positive attitude.

    In addition, the island's official English language policies have undergone various drastic changes over the past century ranging from requiring English as the sole language of instruction to requiring that English be taught as a separate subject. In Puerto Rico, the English language policy "has been used one way or another as a political tool by whatever party is in power" (Lombard, 1992). As a result, conflicts around the role of English on the island have affected students, teachers, and administrators. More conflict has resulted with the Spanish as an official Language Act endorsed and signed in 1991 by the Governor of Puerto Rico, Rafael Hernandez Colon, which was revoked on January 29, 1993, by the newly elected Governor Pedro Rosello. He changed the existing language law to adopt both English and Spanish as official languages of Puerto Rico. Events such as these have provoked controversy among many Puerto Rican
people.

 Judd (1990) argued in his study on language and politics:

A language is more than a grammatical or communicative system. It is a symbolic system laden with emotional attachments that can arouse the deepest passions. Such feelings about a language are not only individual in nature; often they develop collectively into a group ideology and as such can affect the language policy of a country. Composed of a mixture of historical facts, mythology, and half?truths, the ideology often becomes a rationale either for existing language policy decisions or for efforts to create new policy directions. (p. 115)

 
This view of language as an ideology that affects policy is either expressed or latent throughout Puerto Rico due to what are seen as the political aspects of learning English on the island. No matter their context, the policies for learning English have had less than positive impact over the years. Morales Carrion (1983) affirmed that English has never been the language of Puerto Rico in daily life, in literature, or education, in spite of official efforts of the United States government to impose the English language as a means of "Americanizing" the island since 1899.

    There have been a number of studies about attitudes and motivation for learning English in Puerto Rico (Llado, 1978; Muñoz, 1973; Van Trieste, 1985). Many researchers have focused on identifying the different factors that contribute to student attitudes and motivation. Other investigators have described the relationship between achievement and attitudes in second?language learning (Gonzales Mendez, 1989; La Torre, 1989). Although these studies revealed important aspects about second?language learning, the researchers did not focus on issues that describe sociopolitical concerns, affect in language learning, and curriculum and methods from the point of view of the students. My interest in this study was to explore and analyze these aspects as they were evidenced in this cultural context. By doing so, I was able to characterize and illustrate the teaching and learning of English as experienced by these participants. Such findings could be a springboard for further consideration and research.

    Because I was interested in documenting the life experiences that college returning Puerto Rican adult students have about learning English, an in-depth interview study was considered most congruent with my purpose. Reconstructing the perceptions of these students about their language and culture and how they view themselves can help paint the picture of how they have been touched by their life experiences learning English. Ethnographic interviews seek to discover the meaning of the experiences of the people from whom we want to learn (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982; Ely, Anzul, Friedman, Gardner, & Steinmetz, 1991; Lofland & Lofland, 1984; Merriam, 1988; Mishler, 1986; Spradley, 1979). I conducted ethnographic interviews with five adults in a small city in the interior of the island who returned to their local college and who were engaged again in basic English courses. I documented stories of their past and current experiences of learning English so that I could construct their realities from their personal perspective. The themes that were gleaned from the recursive analysis of the data revealed issues and may provide insights that can be used as a springboard for further consideration and research.

This study was guided by the following research questions about these adult second-language learners:

How do these learners view their history of learning English?

What do they report has influenced their language learning experience?

What techniques and methods, in their opinion, would help students learn English more effectively?

    As the study progressed, the unique sociopolitical status of English in Puerto Rico emereged as an issue of importance to all participants. This, then, became an important focus. Another aspect of concern was the importance they attached to English in their professional futures and the lives of their children. Additional research questions thus became:
What meanings do these participants ascribe to the learning and speaking of English in the Puerto Rican sociopolitical context?

How do they perceive the need for English in their futures and those of their children?
 

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