In this chapter, I present a thematic analysis of the data. A theme can be defined as a statement of meaning that runs through most of the data or that occurs for a minority of the participants but carries heavy emotional or factual impact (Ely et al., 1991). The themes from this study that emerged from the analysis of data are presented under three categories: Political, Social, and Cultural Issues; Past Approaches to the Teaching of English; and English as a Necessity for the Future.
Political, Social, and Cultural Issues
During the time that I began to seek participants for this study, the island of Puerto Rico was going through a change in linguistic policy. This was a public issue that concerned all of us, including the students. These students' views reflected those of the three political parties in Puerto Rico, and these differences affect the attitudes Puerto Ricans have about learning English on the island. In Puerto Rico, there are three political parties: the independence supporters, the commonwealthers, and those that sympathize with statehood. The commonwealthers and statehooders have been in power as majorities. Both have had the opportunity to govern the island and, as I have stated previously, have viewed the language issue differently. I encouraged student debate on this topic in our class discussions and suggested that they write their reflections in their class journals, which gave them an opportunity to express themselves on such a controversial matter.
The stories of all the participants seemed to reflect the controversies over the official language policies, the positions of the various parties toward the role of the English language in Puerto Rico, and their own individual political affiliations. The continual uncertainty regarding the island's future political status affects their learning of English. The relationship between the English language and current government policy is an ongoing topic that is much debated among Puerto Ricans. This climate results in a resistance and ambiguity to learning English on the part of some of the students, as the following theme indicates.
Theme l: To us, learning English is a central political issue, and we feel passionately about it.
A spectrum of political stances was presented by
these five participants: Juan at the left extreme, Diana and Pablo in the
middle, and Maria and Jose at the far right. The positions of those participants
from the central part of the island about English appear somewhat different
from people in the metropolitan areas of Puerto Rico, where English-language
exposure is tied to everyday needs and where its influence is greater.
The stances of these-latter participants toward English teaching and learning
are somewhat bonded to cultural and political views that in turn affect their success or lack of success with English. Juan, for example, has stated that he has been very unsuccessful in his English?language learning and that this experience has caused him to develop certain feelings about it:
I have felt fear toward English. Since it wasn't the main language of Puerto Rico, I have viewed it with terror and have not learned it. Juan thus related his lack of success to his political views. During our interview, he said he favored independence for Puerto Rico. He proudly stated that he was a "patriota" who believed his country and culture are first and that Spanish should come before any other language, in this case English. It appeared to me that Juan was very angry that the government had used his native language as a political device for "playing around" with the power it had just obtained through a majority of Puerto Rican voters in the 1992 elections:
I don't like the way the Puerto Rican government is trying to force the English language on the people of the island. In reality, we don't use it or understand it. If all along English would have been the official language of Puerto Rico, we would have learned it when we were small, and then it would make sense, but the government is trying to force English on us, and this makes me feel negative. It's not that I'm against English; I'm against the way the government of Puerto Rico is handling the situation.This political act of making English the official language of Puerto Rico produced confusion for Juan and made him feel negative toward that language. He felt the teaching of English had not taken place when he was young, thereby making it difficult for him to learn it:
Introducing English that way makes me angry. I don't like English. I feel it's not necessary to introduce the English language if, in reality, I don't know it. I mean, if it were the official language and we would have learned it since we were small, then it would be different, but this government wants to force it on us and it makes me feel negative.Juan resented the language policy law and was up-front about his reason for feeling as he did: "They (the government) came and made English alongside the Spanish language of Puerto Rico, and this made me angry."
However, he appeared to comfort himself with the thought that nothing could harm Spanish; any threats to his culture and language through the sole use of English would take a lot of time to happen: "I think English will be very difficult to adopt as a language because everything we do here is done in Spanish." Although Juan represents a political minority group in Puerto Rico, to me his view reflects the passion Puerto Ricans have about politics on the island and the apparent correlation between politics and the acceptance or rejection of the English language.
Juan falls on the far left of the island's political spectrum. Diana's and Pablo's views toward learning English were also politically, culturally, and socially charged. Diana felt she had not learned English in school: "In my case, I didn't learn English. Sincerely, I didn't learn it in school." The same statement was shared by Pablo, who felt his language learning was not successful until he became a member of the National Guard. He reported that his experience with English was traumatic as a child: "The English class has always been a burden and trauma for me since I was a child."
Both Diana and Pablo represent the midpoint of the political spectrum, where both languages, English and Spanish, can coexist in an effort to combine the best of two worlds: the United States and Puerto Rico. They belong to the Commonwealth Political Party.
Diana stated that the act of making English official was not unexpected by her. She stated that English has always been there:
People see English as something that is being imposed on us since we were born, and the Puerto Ricans continue rejecting it.
This statement echoes some studies of the island's cultural context (Garcia?Passalacqua, 1984; Maldonado Denis, 1972; Morales Carrion, 1974), which reveal an attitude of counter assimilation by the Puerto Rican people in efforts to maintain their culture and national originals. As portrayed in the literature, Puerto Rico had been influenced by Spain for 400 years in poetry, literature, music, and art prior to the attempt to Americanize the island by the United States. Puerto Ricans were not consulted about it but rather it was imposed from without, as stated by Diana.
There were two contexts in which the United States government tried to introduce English in Puerto Rico. The first context was through religion. According to Colon Rosado (1981), the Protestant Americans who came to the island tried to tie their religion to progress and liberty and began to Americanize the island, preparing it to become a state of the American union. In this religious context, Protestantism and Americanism were intimately tied (Silvestrini & Luque de Sanchez, 1987).
Other efforts to infiltrate English were attempted through education. The linguistic policies under Commissioners Brumbaugh (1900), Falkner (1905), and Gallardo (1937) tried to make the Puerto Rican school population bilingual. Although teachers from the United States were hired to teach English in the public schools of Puerto Rico, a study conducted by Jose Padin during Commissioner Miller's (1915) term revealed that Puerto Ricans could neither speak nor write English after 20 years of efforts to teach them to do so and that such efforts jeopardized their Spanish as well. During this time, the Jones Act (1917), granting American citizenship to Puerto Ricans, was passed. Groups of Puerto Ricans began the debate about English and their cultural identity. It was not until Puerto Rico became a commonwealth (1952) that the linguistic policy under Villaronga (1948) made English a second language (Lopez Yustos, 1984).
Diana addressed this issue in her language-learning experience as a forced activity: "I agree with the language policy because English has been forced on us since we were in primary grades at school."
Pablo's attitude was to accept English but not leave out Puerto Rican culture. His political view was that English is acceptable but Spanish should come first:
I consider English important, but that importance doesn't make the proposed new law of the second language as important as Spanish in our society. He continued to reject the language policy even further:
Looking at it from a point of view that the majority
of the people speak Spanish, I believe that making English an official
language is against us. Pablo's view was that the government did not have
thoughtful reasons to change the linguistic policy:
Within the cultural and social situation of Puerto Rico, I understand that the English language should have stayed as a second language. The views of the participants coincided in that they neither feel they have learned English nor have reached the goal of becoming bilingual. The island of Puerto Rico has been annexed to the United States for more than 100 years. According to Brown (1994), there are sociopolitical considerations that affect the relationship between language and society. In Puerto Rico, the official language policy concerning learning English in a native Spanish culture seems to affect the acculturation process of many Puerto Ricans. In the specific case of Puerto Rico, there is a "lingua franca," officially accepted by the Puerto Rican government, in which a part of the population in the metropolitan areas use some English for education, government, and business. The language environment in most of the central part of the island is mostly Spanish; and the second language, English, is not used as much in education, business, or government. This dichotomy contradicts the learning theory on acculturation in the sense that some Puerto Ricans do not wish to change their Spanish language, culture, or values. According to Valdes (1986), acculturating is a gradual process of adapting to a target language, in this case English. In Guiora's (1979) model, he posits that this adaptation depends on the psychological health of the first language ego. He affirms that if students have a strong self-esteem in their own culture, chances are that they will be more likely to take on the other culture. Brown (1994) echoes this factor of acculturation in that . . . second-language learning in the native culture varies . . . by the learner depending on the country, the cultural and sociopolitical status of the language. (p. 34) Juan, Diana, and Pablo have reacted to their English-language learning based on their political convictions and beliefs, tightly interweaving both experiences. The last two participants, Maria and Jose, represented the far-right extreme of the political spectrum I have presented earlier. They both believed in statehood and, consequently, viewed English very differently from the rest of the participants. Maria attributed English to economic growth and development:
It's not that the government is imposing the English language on us. English is as necessary as the food we eat and the clothes we wear. For Jose, it was perfectly desirable to know both English and Spanish: "You can master both languages; and wherever you go, it'll help you either on the streets or on the job." Jose further expressed the importance he attached to English:
I think that nowadays in order to make it and to develop fully within our society, in whatever work area, and as a professional, you will have to know English. Both Maria and Jose viewed English as a door that opened to opportunities:
It's a universal language because in all countries it's the number-one language. (Maria)
English is like a door somewhere. It's a step ahead to complete your goals. (José) The last two participants share a positive view of English. Both Maria and Jose had been exposed to English through media such as cable television, radio programming, and reading material. They have both been to the United States and have the desire to return there someday. From their experiences on the mainland, hey both learned some English, which helped them through their college courses. They have also identified with the political party that favors statehood for Puerto Rico, and they would like all Puerto Ricans to be able to speak English. Mari and Jose have both successfully learned the English language and have an integrative orientation toward it. In the literature, a distinction is made between integrative and instrumental language orientation. On the one hand, an integrative a motivation has an attitudinal foundation that favors the other ethnic community and has a continuing influence on language earning and use. On the other hand, instrumental orientation encourages learning the target language mainly for job purposes.
These findings tend to confirm Resnick's (1993) study in which he said that one of the factors that impedes bilingualism is the association between language and identity, as in the cases of Diana, Juan, and Pablo. Their political affiliation appeared related to their views on learning English. Juan views learning English as an action against his culture and all that it represents for him. Diana and Pablo acknowledge that English is important, but that Spanish and the Puerto Rican culture should take first place. It is outside the scope of this study to attribute causes to a lack of success in mastering the English language, but the political views of these participants possibly fed an attitude that could impede or aid English language learning. The corpus of knowledge on the topic of English language learning in Puerto Rico (Llado Berios, 1978; Resnick, 1993; Schweers & Velez, 1992; Torruellas, 1990) seems to be illustrated by the attitudes and views of these participants. These reflect the conditions that exist in Puerto Rico about English, political conflicts, and the association of English with identity issues and Puerto Rican nationalism.
Past Approaches to the Teaching of English
The participants in this study were all returning college adults. Although the length of time they had been out of school varied, they were back in college taking three consecutive required English courses. All of the participants were enrolled in my own course and were open and willing to talk to me about their learning experiences with English.
Most of the conversations held with these participants focused on events recalled from their past school years. At times it seemed difficult for them to recall details because, as they said, these experiences occurred 10 to 15 years in the past. This was the case with Diana and Maria. For Jose and Pablo, the time span was shorter. Juan was an exception. During our interview sessions, he recollected his past English?learning experiences vividly.
According to most of these participants, their past
learning experiences with English were largely unsuccessful. They were
not able to speak, read, or write English after twelve years of formal
schooling. They attributed this to a lack of interest, boredom, and difficulty
learning the English language. Both quantitative and qualitative research
studies carried out in Puerto Rico (Acuna, 1985; Aneiro, 1989; Caratini,
1984; Llado Berrios, 1978; Torruellas, 1990; & Van Trieste, 1985) have
focused on different aspects of learning English as a second language [ESL]. The literature on ESL supports the views that
second-language acquisition involves many elements, including the linguistic environment, input, attitudes and motivation,
affective domain, competence, acculturating to the target culture, variability of the learner's language, and neurofunctional factors. All of these influence successful or unsuccessful language learning.
In this category, I aim to describe how these participants viewed their language learning under three themes. These themes are drawn from in vivo codes of the participants. The first two themes reflect the general negative opinions Diana, Maria, Juan, and Pablo had about their attempts to learn English. The third theme--I Feel English Teachers Weren't Prepared to Teach English--introduces a discussion about the lack of motivation these participants perceived from the majority of their English teachers and their perception of pedagogical strategies and techniques used to teach English which they felt did not work for them.
Theme 1: We feel that the way we were taught English in the past didn't work for us.
For the most part, Diana, Maria, Juan, and Pablo
felt they had not learned the English language during their formal
schooling. Jose, however, was a discrepant case in this study. His English-language learning experience was different from the
rest of the participants, and his views will be presented at the end of this section.
Diana spoke about her past learning as having little pertinence to her future life:
My learning wasn't effective because I didn't learn lots of things; and the things I learned, I didn't know why I was learning them, or how I was going to utilize them. In school, you take English because you have to, not because you're going to learn it for a future necessity.Juan also spoke about his failure to learn English. It is clear that his emotions of fear and anxiety impeded his English learning:
When it comes to English, I view it with fear. This fear is that others will make fun of me. Sometimes when I make a mistake, others mock me and I feel too inhibited to even try.The same sense of fear was expressed by Pablo: "Sometimes I wish I could speak English, but I can't. The fear of pronouncing incorrectly won't let me." Diana further expressed the same fear: "Pronouncing English correctly has always caused a trauma in me."
Maria explained how she had been unable to speak English when she went to the United States because of fear:
When I went to the U.S., I learned how to listen to English but not to speak it because I was always afraid of English. Since I didn't know how to pronounce it correctly, I never dared to speak it. I think here in P.R. people have a fear of English and they see it as a monster (el cuco) and they don't want to speak it.This fear of speaking in class is discussed in Torruellas's (1990) study in which she captured the views of three private-school students in the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico. She found that there was a hostile environment in the English class and resistance to speaking English as well. This was part of a subculture created by the students themselves. Torruellas reported that students resisted speaking English in class because they feared this would lead to mockery from the group. According to her findings, English classroom interaction was characterized by active resistance to learning the second language.
In this study, the fear that Juan, Diana, and Maria mention seems stated specifically in relation to pronunciation, but it goes deeper. These participants said that if they made a mistake when they spoke English, they would be laughed at by peers, which would make them feel ridiculous and humiliated. As a researcher, this finding confirms the hunch that I brought to the study from my own teaching experience. Many times in my classes, when I asked students to read aloud and give oral presentations, they were very self-conscious when doing so. It seemed to me that just calling on them would make them nervous. Some participants called it "un frio olimpico."
This fear is also described in Krashen's affective filter hypothesis. According to Dulay, Burt, and Krashen (1982), "When a student is exposed to a new language, the first internal hurdles are posed by the individual's emotional state and motivations" (p. 4). Although English is not a new language to Puerto Ricans, there are emotional and affective variables that impede or support its learning as the second language. According to Krashen, an affective filter controls how much input the learner comes into contact with and how much input is converted into intake (Burt, Dulay, & Krashen, 1982; Krashen, 1985; McLaughlin, 1987; Richard?Amato, 1988). This process is termed affective because it deals with the learner's motivation, self-confidence, or anxiety state. Thus, from Krashen's (1985) perspective, a student with low motivation, little self-confidence, and high anxiety will increase the level of the affective filter and therefore will allow less input and learning. Especially in the study of English as a second language in Puerto Rico, many affective issues that may impede or facilitate learning are involved. Consequently, it is important to provide an atmosphere of caring and trust so that the tension and anxiety levels that may exist are minimized and the classroom becomes a relaxing place where students can learn. Jose emphasized the difficulties that many students had preparing-to make oral presentations in English:
A friend of mine, Leo, told me that most of the time students haven't had the exposure to speak in English, and it's scary for many. I mean, we have to consider that these people are adults and it's not easy for them to go ahead with oral presentations if they haven't been exposed to it [sic] before. They have fear of speaking English because they will make fools of themselves. I agree with that; however, I don't think it's impossible to try. I feel students have to cross over the barrier they have put up. According to Maria, her experiences had also been primarily negative: "I learned some isolated words like mother, father, pencil, things like that, but I didn't learn how to speak English." Pablo felt he didn't learn English in school because the learning was on an automatic level, leaving little room for meaningful communication:
In reality, the little English I know I learned in a three-month course I took in the National Guard. I didn't learn English while I was in school. In the sixth grade, the teaching was based on sentence patterns, and from these, we had to do exercises. This continued on until high school. The learning was automatic; it wasn't learning.
Pablo was successful in his English-language training in the army because there he was immersed. Immersion methods are effective, according to Krashen (1985), when the learners receive comprehensible input through subject matter that is relevant to their interest (or need as in Puerto Rico's case). These four participants felt they had not learned English in school. According to them, the teaching of English was not pertinent, and they viewed it with boredom and, for some, with fear. Some felt that the communicative aspect was not included and they attributed their failure to that.
This, however, was not the case with Jose:
I always saw my English class as something normal. I always participated in my English class as if it were any other of my classes. I didn't have any problem understanding the class or doing my work. One of the things I have been very good at is grammar. Writing and grammar were the most emphasized aspects of English, and I was good at it.
José had very positive experiences with English in his home and at school. In his community, his father would translate mail-received by neighbors written in English. Jose's first trip to the United States, through the Presidential Candidate Program, opened up for him a world of mysteries he had wondered about but did not have the real life experience to completely comprehend. Now he would like to return to the United States and become as fluent in English as he is in Spanish. He considers English as an important language for his future as a radiologist. In our reading class, students had to work collaboratively at creating a story. Jose suggested "English Is Not Impossible to Learn" as the title for our class booklet. Jose has both integrative and instrumental orientations to learning English.
During these interviews, participants mentioned the Puerto Rico Department of Education as an important influence on proper methods and techniques. Recently, the Department of Education revised the English program as stated in its Carta Circular (1994). This official document sets the grounds for the teaching of English in Puerto Rico in all public schools of the island. It recommends the teaching of English as a second language using the following approaches: the natural approach, the communicative approach, the notional-functional approach, and the whole-language approach. In contrast to the audiolingual approach, which has been the dominant approach since the 1980s, the natural approach is "based on the use of the language in communicative situations without recourse to the native language" (Richards & Rodgers, 1986, p. 128). This approach is characterized by four stages: preproduction, early production, speech emergence, and intermediate fluency. By providing comprehensible input and communicative activities, the student learner of a second language progresses through these stages until he or she can engage in natural speaking. In a similar way, the communicative approach is aimed at making communicative competence the goal of language teaching, taking into consideration the interdependence of the four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. In addition to these approaches, the notional-functional approach is based on language learning around categories of function and topics such as "accepting/rejecting invitations, requesting information, expressing needs or emotions of various kinds" (Richard-Amato, 1988, p. 16).
Most recently, the English program of the Department of Education of Puerto Rico has adopted whole-language approaches. These approaches focus on the wholeness of language in contrast to fragmentation of skills (Brown, 1994); the intimate connection between reading and writing is emphasized. The activities that are advised are ones that spark creativity and richness of school and life experiences. This means helping students ask and seek answers to their own questions, thus giving them time for thinking and growing. Reading and writing are processes that allow for multiple perspectives and interpretations (Department of Education, 1994).
Whole-language approaches provide opportunities to
monitor performance progress through ongoing assessment. Writing portfolios,
reading checklists, conferences, inventories, and journals provide other
valuable language experiences that can be shared by students and teachers.
The analysis of input from such activities might help to determine what
students need most. In contrast, evaluation methods in the past concentrated
on gathering data at the end of a finished lesson. These traditional methods
provided little immediate feedback before
further instructional decisions were made.
The participants in this study mentioned classes
where there was a focus on form rather than function. Correctness and form
undoubtedly have a place, but only in conjunction with rich opportunities
to use the language.
Theme 2: We wish their had let us speak more English.
José felt he did not have a problem with grammar but that speaking was deemphasized. He stressed that a balance is necessary for effective oral communication:
Some English teachers have established certain patterns in their classes and don't provide activities, such as dialogues, speeches, and role-play, to help students overcome their fears. The teachers should help students with pronunciation problem areas. I don't want to generalize to all teachers, but the majority of them aren't flexible. They stick to the book. There should be a balance. For example, teach half an hour of grammar and dedicate the rest of the time to oral practice. Most of the time is devoted to written exercises. Sometimes you walk into a classroom and there are ten boards full of things to copy into your notebooks.José further commented that the lack of oral practice was due to emphasis on structure and writing. He went on to say that students need self-confidence and that they have had minimal exposure to English:
Students aren't used to practicing this material from an oral perspective. Therefore, students are convinced that they can't speak, and they are afraid to be ridiculed. We have lacked the oral practice.On another occasion, Diana went on to say:
Diana felt that she hardly had the opportunity to speak English.
The teaching consisted of showing pictures and repetition. We hardly wrote or practiced English. I think all of us who are out of school would agree that speaking wasn't emphasized.
If I would have practiced English orally, I would have learned it; but most of the time I answered written exercises and never said a word. Maria's earlier experiences were very similar to Jose's andJosé, Diana, and Maria were not far away from the reality that very little English is spoken in many classrooms. According to Dulay, Burt, and Krashen (1982), "It is most beneficial when the language environment is one where language is used for natural communication" (p. 3). According to Scarcella (1990), "The quality of the language environment is of paramount importance to success in learning a new language" (p. 13). The goal of communicative language teaching, according to Brown (1994), is centered on speaking and listening skills, on reading whole texts, and on writing for specific communicative purposes. It appears that these participants were not challenged to learn English in a natural environment. Maria felt this was a serious problem that can result in embarrassment and the fear mentioned earlier:
In the classroom, they gave class, but you never got to speak. You can't learn by just mentioning the words. In my opinion, in the schools of Puerto Rico, we are not taught to speak English.
I don't even recall having read much in English either. That's why sometimes we read English with a Spanish intonation. For example, the other day someone in class read "favorite" with a Spanish pronunciation. It was not surprising: It reflects that students haven't had practice pronouncing English correctly.This theme presented the views of the participants in relation to their English-language experience. It seems that the emphasis on teaching in their schools was based on grammar and writing, leaving little room for the development of reading and speaking. Krashen's theory of second-language acquisition posits that the learners need comprehensible input that involves English use in a natural communication environment. Krashen described the learner's progress through "Natural developmental sequences" (McLaughlin, 1987). His input hypothesis postulates that
. . . humans acquire language in only one way--by understanding messages, or by receiving "comprehensible" input. We move from i, our current level, to i + 1, the next level along the natural order, by understanding input containing i + 1. (Krashen, 1985, p. 2)In this view, students need to be exposed to the English language slightly above their level in order to process language.
Similarly, Vygotsky (1978) proposed that individuals
progress through social interactions from actual developmental
levels of learning to a series potential developmental levels. He called the distance between these two levels the zone of
proximal development. It appears that the participants in this study needed more English use in their classes in order to
interact with the processes necessary for communicative competence and thereby continue to progress.
Theme 3: Teachers spoke more Spanish than English in classes.
This theme captures the views of the participants on the use of Spanish in English classes. They thought that this practice was an unhealthy one, which in part contributed to their inability to speak English. According to Maria, the reality was that very few teachers spoke English. Teachers spoke more Spanish than English in their classes. Maria further added that island-born teachers were sure to have difficulty teaching a language they had not practiced:
A teacher who is prepared to teach English here in Puerto Rico without practicing the oral aspect of the language I don't feel will be a good teacher for English.Diana said that there was very little emphasis on a whole sentence but rather on isolated vocabulary: "In my school days, a complete sentence was hardly practiced." Pablo added that after twelve years of schooling, students cannot speak English because teachers do not speak English in their classes:
Above all, teachers should use English in the classes all the time. When I was studying in the public schools, I would introduce myself in English to the teachers, and they would switch to the Spanish language. That's also another reason why, in general, we haven't learned to speak English. The only way we are going to learn English is by obligating us to speak it. Students should become curious listeners. They should be able to think about what has been said to them in English, and they should try to figure it out. If teachers give the students the equivalent in Spanish, we will never learn.Although generally ESL teachers will attest that students would prefer that Spanish be used in English classes, the participants in this study felt it was a malpractice that caused them not to learn the English language. The role of the native
Pando (1994) stated in her study that Spanish can be used in ESL classes to (a) help students overcome fears about the language itself, (b) clarify explanations, (c) check comprehension, (d) initiate communication from a breakdown, (e) grasp a grammatical form, (f) introduce idioms, (g), clarify vocabulary, and (h) explain cognates.
In a newsletter response article, Van Trieste (1994) said that Spanish use must be kept to a minimum in order to expose students to a maximum amount of comprehensible input and practice of English. Comprehensible input is important for the monitor and organizer to process language (Krashen, 1985).
Similarly, Hatch (1978) proposed that it is through communication that a second-language learner will acquire the structure of language. The research on the role of the first language is extensive. According to Dulay, Burt, and Krashen (1982), limited second-language environments include two characteristics: (a) absence of peers who speak the language natively, and (b) artificial conditions for the language to be learned.
In this study, when English speakers did exist in English classes, they seemed to be viewed by some of these participants with hostility. From the data of the interviews, Juan and Diana mentioned that the presence of bilingual Puerto Rican students who migrated from the United States threatened their chances of taking the risk to try to speak English. Both of these participants expressed intimidation by having English?speaking peers in class. In Juan's profile, he spoke of the resentment he felt when the "gringos," as he called them (Mayra, Olga, and Peter (Pedro)), were always called on by the English teacher to answer in class, read, or participate. He further expressed that his teacher would set test success standards based on these bilingual students' performance.
Diana further mentioned that she viewed bilingual students . in her class as having an advantage over Puerto Rican students who were not proficient in English. The culture of the English classroom, according to these participants, seems to affect the characteristics previously mentioned by Dulay, Burt, and Krashen (1982) because English speakers, if they exist in the classroom setting, are not viewed as a resource by their peers but are either resented, stigmatized, or ignored.
These conditions place the burden on the teachers to provide target language environments in the classroom. The use of English in the classroom by the teachers is, therefore, of utmost importance, as stated by the participants in this study, since there is a limited English environment in this context and students hold views about their English-speaking peers.
Studies on elicitation tasks (Lado in Dulay, Burt, & Krashen, 1982) emphasize that "translation tasks artificially increase the second-language learner's reliance on first?language structures" (p. 110). The disadvantage of this practice is that when second-language learners try to use first?language structures, they will eventually make interlingual errors, that is, errors that reflect the structures of the first language rather than the second.
One of the implications for teaching, stated by Dulay, Burt, and Krashen (1982), is to keep the first- and second-language systems distinct. There should be minimal translation and grammatical explanations in the first language unless it is requested by the learners.
This theme emphasized the heavy use of Spanish in
English teaching and its negative effect on learning. Although these participants
were in agreement with much of the literature that stressed that the native
language should be used minimally in order for students to think and process
the target language, they have different views as well. English should
be used as much as possible because it is not used in daily activities
in the central part of the island. English should be used in classrooms
to optimize the opportunity to learn that language in the public schools
of Puerto Rico, taking into consideration the classroom cultures that may
Theme 4: I feel English teachers aren't all prepared to teach English.
The fourth theme that emerged from the concurrent analysis of
the data was in reference to teachers. For most of the
participants, there was a general feeling that one reason for their lack of success in learning English was a lack of
preparation of teachers. This theme expresses, of course, how participants viewed teachers of English.
Juan had a resentful attitude toward his English
He felt that some teachers were unmotivated to teach the English
In my school days, teachers didn't care whether you learned English or not. They sure knew how to scold us, but they didn't care about our learning. In elementary school, there were teachers that [sic] would hit me on the head with their ring when I was sent to the board just because I didn't know the answer.For Pablo, teachers are also important motivators in the teaching and learning process:
If you find an active teacher, one who breaks the usual routine of the rest of the classes, I'm sure children will become interested in the English class and learning will take place.Maria said that some teachers seemed as if they were not prepared to help the students, and she felt that some teachers could not help because they did not know the language or how to teach it:.
I feel English teachers aren't all prepared to teach English. In classes, most of the time everything was spoken in Spanish, and we are never going to learn it that way. I know that in some elementary schools, English is taught in Spanish by some teachers. Instead of asking students, "What is this?" they say, "¿Que es esto?" Then when the kids answer, they just mention the word, but not in a sentence. This method has to change because students are always going to wait until the professor speaks Spanish. I believe the educational system has to be more selective when they hire English teachers. For example, if a teacher isn't prepared to teach science, he or she is not assigned to teach it, so why do they do it with English?Diana recalled how one of her teachers was so unmotivated that she felt the same way:
I had a teacher who made me feel antipathy toward English. The class was boring. She seemed like she was forced to be there. She planned her class, but covering material was more important to her than the students. Her attitude was learn if you want to. She didn't motivate students to learn English, or even to try. The majority of the English teachers were like that. They didn't care or give the English class any importance.Juan also felt English teachers should be better prepared in their areas and should be evaluated:
I think that English teachers should be evaluated. Some teachers don't know a thing. You can ask anybody, and they'll tell you some of the teachers who have taught them English really don't know it. Some teachers are too strict. You can't expect little kids to start speaking English in the first grade. They have to be taken step-by-step. These teachers should explain the work in an organized way. Little kids who are rushed in their learning get frustrated if you go too fast. The teachers I had in elementary school were always in a hurry and didn't explain much. This frustrated me; and when the teachers pushed me too hard and demanded of me more than I could do, I would quit.He further expressed how important placement is in English classes:
Teachers should first diagnose the students' abilities. Many students have learning problems, and they shouldn't be placed together in the same class. Students who have command of English should all be in a similar group. There should be a way to accommodate those who didn't learn English somewhere else. That way students who know more can develop their own skills, and those not so advanced can go at their own pace. The students who knew English had it easy; they danced through the course. This made me feel inhibited to participate and answer in class. When students who don't know English are grouped together, then they feel motivated because everyone is in the same boat.For these participants, teachers were important in their learning process. Through the analysis of the data, there was at least one English teacher who made a positive difference and was a turning point in the language experiences of each of these participants; however, the impression made by seemingly less motivated and talented teachers had more of an emotional impact. Participants recalled these flashbacks as important events that held them back from learning English more effectively. This is consistent with the findings of many researchers, such as Llado Berrios (1978), who reported in her study that teachers play an important role in students' attitudes toward the language. That role may be a positive or traumatic one for the learner.
Teacher education in English as a second language
in Puerto Rico has changed greatly. In the 1950s, teachers from the U.S.
mainland were hired to teach English in the metropolitan areas of Puerto Rico (Lopez Yustos, 1984). However, in the central and rural areas, many Puerto Rican teachers taught English. Short stories on Puerto Rican literature, such as "Peyo Merce enseña Ingles" picture the hardships many teachers faced teaching English in rural areas. In contrast, nowadays English teachers
are certified in English by the education department in an effort to ensure their adequate preparation.
Ratcliffe Garcia (1981) stated in her study:This view is developed further by Gonzales Mendez (1989), who said there is a lack of qualified teachers at all levels who can teach English as a second language effectively and that there is a lack of sufficient in service training programs for teachers who are not qualified to teach English but who are required to do so by the Department of Education from first to twelfth grades. In a study conducted by Gonzales Rivera (1989) in several junior high schools in Puerto Rico, she found that very few teachers of English in the Department of Education were familiar with second-language acquisition theories. English teachers cannot use the best pedagogical procedures if they are not familiar with the principles that guide the teaching of English as a second language. A possible reason why some of these teachers seemed unprepared to the participants of these students may be due to their lack of adequate preparation. There may be various possible reasons why some teachers seemed less prepared than others. Indeed, we should not hold a simplistic view in this matter. Teachers who learn theories of second-language learning will not automatically apply them appropriately in classroom settings and know how to teach. From my own experience, many times trying out strategies and finding the ones students respond to by asking them what worked has been useful. If we reflect on our teaching with openness, we can stretch and grow in our professions. There are many other things we can do. Attending conferences on teaching and learning and sharing with other teachers what they do in classrooms may also help us in continual teacher improvement. Lastly, reviewing recent research in our field and searching for questions that may lead us to learn about our students may be a way of preparing teachers more effectively for the teaching and learning of English in Puerto Rico.
Any method to be implemented on the island is conditioned by the training and quality of teachers. It must be kept in mind that many teachers of English are native-born Puerto Ricans.
Theme 5: There have to be better and more up-to-date materials and language experiences.
This theme was expressed by the participants as they described, from their point of view, that the English program needed to incorporate technology, labs, and materials to improve the teaching and learning of English in Puerto Rico. Pablo said the Department of Education is under a great deal of competition with advances in computer technology and computerized games:
The teaching of English in Puerto Rico is receiving a lot of competition nowadays. The Department of Education should integrate computer games and other software that are relevant to the advances in technology to get students more interested in learning English. Nowadays, children are exposed to computers. They are used to color, animation, and music on the screens.Furthermore, Pablo stated that language labs are necessary to reinforce conversational English, especially in the lower grades:
I believe the English curriculum of the Department of Education should provide in the primary grades a system to enhance conversational English, and have access to language labs with one to two hours of daily English practice. The English curriculum of Puerto Rico emphasizes a series of exercises that are practiced and read, but in reality there is very little speaking involved, which is necessary.Pablo thought the books and materials also needed to be changed:
The books didn't capture the students' attention. They were in black and white, and so were the students' minds. Books should stimulate students and make them interested in the learning process.Maria said that the teaching methods were unattractive and "theoretical" in nature:
I think this method has to be revised and converted into more practical learning, not just theory. I feel schools teach theory and not enough practice. It's like learning things halfway. In most of the courses I've taken that have focused on theory, I feel I haven't learned completely.As mentioned previously, these students used materials that were prepared according to the audiolingual approach. The curriculum used during the period of study of these participants was based on the notion that they would learn to speak by drill and pattern practice. The texts used were the Fries Series, the Lado English Series, and the American English Series. In 1994, the English Program of the Department of Education of Puerto Rico revised its curriculum based on the latest research and studies on reading and the teaching of English as a second language. Its primary goal is to prepare students to become literate, communicatively competent, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. In a general sense, it proposes to develop in students oral and written skills to help them face the demands of the 21st century (Department of Education, 1994).
The educational reform of the Department of Education has also given attention to the integration of technology into the English classroom. Computers were placed in some federally funded schools across the island. There are many software programs for the teaching and learning of English for underachievers.
All of these changes and revisions are efforts toward improvement. However, successful and meaningful learning of English does not necessarily depend on books, curriculum guides, laws, or technology alone. Its success will also depend on teacher implementation and student outcomes. Students who are able to speak, read, and write acceptable English and who may engage in future activities where this language will facilitate the way will be the best indicators of success.
English as a Necessity for the Future
In this last category, the participants discussed
their views on the importance of English in jobs, education, and travel.
They affirmed that English is a language that will facilitate for Puerto
Ricans access to better salaries, to education on the mainland, and to
use English on trips to the United States.
Theme 1: I can see a role for English in my life.
Even Juan stated that knowing English on the job would help him create a better image of himself:
Yes, I need to know English because if I'm working in a company and American visitors come around, I would at least have to greet them and show them my work area. I need this type of exposure.Maria also mentioned her awareness that persons who are bilingual are more competitive:
People are not told that some day they will need it (English). Here in Puerto Rico the most competitive jobs are for bilinguals.Juan further commented:
Remember, the more you learn [English], the more you'll earn. English is an important factor when you look for a job. It's not that you are totally bilingual, but that you understand English.For these participants, English is an important requirement when they finish their studies. Architects, engineers, accountants, medical doctors, and other professionals need English. In the socioeconomic sphere, English is important for certain jobs on the island, and those who are hired tend to be those who master English (Schweers, 1986). These participants were aware that without English proficiency, they would be at a disadvantage.
The participants also agreed that education is an
important factor for their economic security. Jose mentioned the
importance of English in his field of study:
I think it (English) should be an important base. In my study program, the majority of my books are [sic] in English.Juan admitted that he still had conflicts about taking English now:
I came (to schools) for the need to learn--not English, but because my study program is very competitive and we have to be better prepared to survive. That's why I decided to study.Juan was apathetic about English because he believes it is not the language of daily communication for Puerto Ricans; and although English was made the official language by Governor Rossello, Juan maintained that this was a political act and that it produced certain contradictions for him. In his interview excerpt, we can perceive that Juan was back in college for a degree, but not necessarily to learn English. However, he agreed in words that English is necessary in his area of study.
Pablo viewed English as having a lot of importance for his career.
Yes, it [English] is necessary because it's important in my studies. The books are in English; also, businesses are advancing, and my expectations could be to work in a larger financial field. In the field that I want, English is important.Research in so many fields is conducted in the United States; and, therefore, books, articles, and references are in English.
Although the participants in this study were not
interested in studying in the United States in the immediate future, many
Puerto Rican students are. In Torruellas's (1990) study, many of the Puerto Rican seniors had such intentions. There are many
scholarships available for Puerto Rican students to participate as minorities at recognized universities. In order to maximize
these opportunities, students must know English.
Participants touched on the importance of English
if they went to the United States. Some participants had living and
working on the mainland in their future plans.
José expressed his desire to experience a change:Other participants saw the possibility of visiting the United States for any spur-of-the-moment reason. Juan has this idea in the back of his mind: "If I have to leave for the United States, then I will be better prepared." Maria expressed the same idea that you never know when Puerto Ricans will want to travel:
I would like to live there (in the United States) and work in a hospital. Either way, I need English, and this influences learning and studying it.
We need to know how to speak English at any time and any place. If we want to travel during the summer, we are going to need English. Many of these participants lived in or visited the United States at least once. A phenomenon that occurred in Puerto Rican history was large-scale migration to the United States in the late 1940s and 1950s (Garcia Passalaqua, 1984; Maldonado Denis, 1972; Walsh, 1990).Many Puerto Rican families moved to New York and other areas in search of jobs in the textile industry and agriculture. The 1950s was the greatest decade of migration, with close to half a million Puerto Ricans migrating to the United States.
Most of these people continue to visit their relatives in Puerto Rico from time to time. At present, most United States airline terminals have gates exclusively for San Juan, Puerto Rico. This constant flow of people to and from the continental United States has made many of these participants conscious of the importance of English in order to take advantage of the various opportunities the United States has to offer.
Although these participants admitted that they do not use English in their immediate day-to-day contexts, they acknowledged in their interviews the importance of knowing English for future needs.
From Maria's point of view, many Puerto Ricans do not realize the need we have for English because they have not lived in the United States.
There are students who have never gone to the United States and . . . you know they have not seen the good things that are out there.It seems that the time these participants spent in the United States, and the experiences that were connected with this time, influenced the views they had about English for the future. Although they had different experiences with English, the majority of these participants recognized that English is important for future economic growth and development.
Theme 2: For my children I want all the opportunities I never had.
The majority of these participants said that although
they have not all learned English, they sincerely want their children
to do so. There seems to be a conscious connection between English and Puerto Rico's political future. This alternative might include statehood; and, therefore, the next generation, these participants' sons and daughters, will need English. Juan stated his concern for his own son:
That's why I told you (to the researcher] that I would like to educate my son early so he can learn English, because in the long run, we are in a status debate and who knows if this country becomes a state. It won't be right away that we speak English, but a lot of Americans are going to arrive and the English language will have to be adopted, because I know that's coming and that's why I'd like my son, and not only my son, but the whole generation that is growing up, to learn both languages now.Juan's interview piece was important because he admitted the political decision for Puerto Rican statehood would obligate the younger generation to speak the English language. It seemed to him that eventually there would be more acceptance of English if the island's political status were resolved.
This finding describes people's views about the use of the English language insofar as it is tied to politics, among other factors, on the island. According to the interviews of the participants of this study, those who favored independence and commonwealth status expressed some contradiction and ambiguity toward learning English. I interpret the data to express their position that learning too much English would open the doors to statehood. That Puerto Rico would become the 51st state was not a position favored in the 1992 plebiscite on the island. The majority of the Puerto Ricans voted for commonwealth status, defeating statehood.
When Juan spoke about his son learning English, however, he put aside his own political affiliation so that his son could compete in what might become an English-dominant island. Diana also said she thought her children would learn English much more easily than she did: "I would like for them to learn it. Now it will be much easier because English is spoken all over." Both Diana and Juan saw English as a part of Puerto Rico in the future. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, the U.S. Congress would enforce the English Language Amendment Act as it did in 1985. English would then become the sole official language, and Puerto Ricans would have to adopt it. I have a hunch that for this reason, some Puerto Ricans have avoided learning English in response to statehood ideology. The contrary is also possibly true of those who wish for Puerto Rico to become a state and have positive views about English-language learning.
José, who represents the statehooders' view, said:Pablo also felt learning English was important for his son's future. As a father, he felt that he needed to learn English in order to provide an example for his son:
I believe that English should be practiced in the homes, heard on television, in the movies, and on the radio. All children should learn it. They should listen and view things in English. I feel the best time to learn English is when children are small. That's why I want my son to speak English when he goes to school.
How am I going to tell my son that he has to learn [English] if I don't know it myself? My son needs to see that I have achieved learning English. In reality, it's not that difficult.All participants, including Maria, who provided English-speaking activities in the home, agreed that their children must be prepared to confront the widespread use of English on the island. Currently, cable television, videos, movies, and the media are entering the homes. The majority of the young generation listen to English songs and are more influenced by them than the adult participants in this study.
These participants say they believed that Puerto Rico's political status would be resolved some day and that their children would grow up with a different view toward English and English?language learning. They expected that their children would learn English more naturally and easily than they did. Part of the data of this study supports the interpretation that some people have only given lip service to the idea of becoming bilingual on the island. There may be differences between what we say and what we do. If this were to change, much would depend on what these participants do with English. I feel that this is a very personal commitment for the participants as well as for their children.