CHAPTER VI

SUMMARY, DISCUSSION, AND RECOMMENDATIONS

    My purpose in this study was to present the views of five returning adult college students from the central geographical area of Puerto Rico about their life experiences learning the English language. As I worked with the participants of this study, I viewed them not only as students learning English in Puerto Rico but also as an adult population concerned about important issues related to Puerto Rico's future as well as their own. The political views of the participants and their sense of cultural identity seemed to be reflected in their attitudes toward learning English. In addition, their past experiences learning English as a second language appeared to influence their attitudes toward this present English learning experience.

    In Chapter II, I presented an overview of the history of the English language in Puerto Rico because this history had a direct impact on the experiences of students learning English in Puerto Rico, with a focus on events that seemed to have influenced the attitudes of some of the participants in this study. The many changes in linguistic policy as well as second-language acquisition theories prevalent in Puerto Rico are discussed.
 
    This study was designed within a qualitative paradigm. The implementation of the methods of participant observation and ethnographic interviewing used in the study are described in Chapter III. The research site has been masked to protect anonymity; however, there are factual data on the setting that describe cultural trends in this area. I selected five returning adult students as participants--three men and two women--from an initial pool of interviewees recruited from my own classes. Each participant was interviewed in Spanish in three to four sessions of 30 to 45 minutes. These interviews were semistructured with open?ended questions allowing participants to talk about their life experiences. The interviews were taped, transcribed, and put in a numbered log. In the recurrent process of analysis of data, I coded interview transcripts by thinking units that were later developed into subcategories and categories. These data were recontextualized into a series of themes that were later presented in Chapter V as elements in a thematic analysis.

    In Chapter IV, I presented a detailed description of the town, the campus, and the participants. First, I described the geographical area, which is considered rural. In the remainder of the chapter, I presented the portraits of five participants. The first returning adult of this study is Juan. He is 35 years old and works as a salesman. His English-language learning experience was characterized by a lot of anxiety, and he still does not speak the language. He mentioned fear of ridicule and a strong sense of cultural identity with the Spanish language among the reasons why he had not learned English. Then I presented Pablo, in his late 20s. Pablo is a teacher's aide and works with special-education students. His English-language experiences were also difficult; however, through life experiences and military service, he was able to overcome his fears. The next participant, Diana, in her 40s, did not learn English in school and is trying hard to learn it now as an adult. She is a full-time, day, nontraditional student and a housewife. Another participant, Maria, who is about 30 years old, has had out-of-school experiences that have helped her become a second-language speaker. She lived in the United States for some time with her daughters. The last participant, Jose, the youngest of all in his early 20s, has a facility with the English language that was developed in the public schools of Puerto Rico. He has two jobs, one in a supermarket and another in car repairs. The life experiences of all five participants are presented in portraits narrated in the first person.

    Chapter v is a thematic analysis of the interview data. It is divided into three categories. In the first category are discussed the political, social, and cultural issues related to the teaching and learning of English. That is followed by a theme describing how these participants viewed the language issue and the passion they felt about it. A salient theme was: "To us, learning English is a central political issue, and we feel passionately about it." The second major category is concerned with past approaches to the teaching of English. In it, I presented five themes that address particular aspects of the participants' teaching and learning experiences. Some of the salient themes deal with methodology and techniques that, according to the participants, were inadequate. Among these themes were, "We wish they had let us speak English more," and "Teachers spoke more Spanish than English in classes." Other themes touch on affective aspects. The participants felt that for the most part both teachers and fellow classmates had a negative affective influence. The final category presented English as a need for the future. It uncovers the instrumental orientation these participants have toward English for themselves as well as for their children. A theme that ran strongly throughout the data was, "For my children, I want all the opportunities I never had."

Discussion and Implications for Practice

    In the preceding chapter, a discussion of the findings in the light of related research was included after each theme. In the section that follows, I discuss three overarching topics that seem to have particular importance for the teaching of English in Puerto Rico: issues related to English-language learning and Puerto Rican identity, the role of affect in learning, and curriculum and methods.
 

English-Language Learning and Cultural Identity

    The teaching and learning of English in Puerto Rico is affected by many factors, but perhaps the most significant is cultural identity. There has been conflict over the political status of the island, i.e., whether it should have commonwealth, statehood, or independent status. These political decisions expressed in public referenda and plebiscites seem to affect directly the decisions related to the use of English on the island. In this study, the participants spoke about their English?language experiences, and these have been very closely tied to politics. Some of these participants felt anger with the drastic linguistic policy change of 1993 that made both English and Spanish official languages of Puerto Rico, after only two years of a linguistic debate to make Spanish the official language.

    In this study, all participants voluntarily revealed their political affiliations during the interview process. Juan, an independence supporter, favored the maintenance of Spanish as the official language. Two participants, Diana and Pablo, were commonwealth supporters, and both endorsed bilingualism.  In contrast, Maria and Jose supported statehood and a language shift to English. These participants reported their English-language learning experiences differently. Juan had many difficulties
learning English and is still trying to master it. Diana and Pablo, through out-of-school experiences, appear to have gained
some proficiency in the use of English. Similarly, Maria and José have had very rewarding events and outcomes in their lives and consider they have learned English, although they want to become more fluent. It seems that there was a relationship between the political affiliations of these participants and how they viewed English, which possibly fed an attitude that impedes or aids their learning. Recent literature (Crespo Ortiz, 1991; Lombard, 1994; Resnick, 1993; Schweers & Velez, 1992; Torruellas, 1990) points to the connection of language and identity and the teaching and learning of English on the island. It seems to me that this will continue to be an issue until a political decision resolves the status of the island. Hopefully, over time this issue will become less emotionally laden. Until such a time, many Puerto Ricans will be taking sides, accepting or rejecting English, according to their political affiliations. There seems to be a ,resistance to learning English among some Puerto Ricans. In one way or another, other factors such as fear, teachers, materials, or peers are also present. For me, the political questions about the island's status will in the end be the hard core in this issue. Some Puerto Ricans do not want Puerto Rico to become a state and, therefore, will not learn English.  In my classes, when I am teaching English, some students have told me that I am trying to turn them into "Americans." I feel they fear in part that they will lose their sense of identity, that the spread of the English language on the island will weaken Spanish and the Puerto Rican culture.
 
    On the other hand, these participants view English in the lives of their children differently. They want their children to learn it and look for ways to facilitate this process. The children of these participants may be more exposed to cable television in Puerto Rican homes and will have access to computers in which English is the language of the Internet and the Worldwide Web as well as other programs. This type of exposure might create a different outlook on English for the next generation. Ten years from now, the children of these participants might have different life experiences that may make a difference in their English-language learning.

    This study was carried out in one of the most culturally intact areas of Puerto Rico in which people cherish the folklore and traditions of Puerto Ricans, including the Spanish language. A language shift to English in this area once readier access to media and technology occurs may be slower than in other parts of the island. It might be helpful to clarify for students why English is important to learn in a Spanish-speaking context. Those students who are motivated to prepare for job interviews and to acquire fluency should be able to take elective courses with a curriculum designed for their needs. In contrast, the campus should not force students to study English if it is not important to them. The implications of the foregoing might set grounds to study a new policy for English requirements at the college level. Currently, all students must pass three consecutive basic courses in English for a bachelor's degree.  If different options were proposed, there could perhaps be a different outlook for the learning of English on the island.

    In Puerto Rico, past linguistic policies have been determined by people whose fields of study were not second-language learning. I suggest that, instead, language planners who are involved in the teaching of English in Puerto Rico take an active part in the careful study of the cultural, political, and social issues involved here. These educators should make the decisions about the best curricula, methodologies, and solutions, taking the context of Puerto Rico into consideration. Recently, a group of language educators on the island, called the Puerto Rico Association for Language Planning, discussed the issues of English in Puerto Rico in order to help policymakers avoid unreasonable language-policy decisions (Velez, 1995). In this way, empowering those involved in the teaching and learning of English might bring about different policies than those currently in force.

    Language learning and cultural identity are sensitive issues because of the political and social overtones involved. Interactions and exchanges with English speakers in classrooms seem to reflect hostility as well. Encouraging students to talk about these issues might be the beginning of a new language-learning experience for them. Schweers and Velez (1992) suggest a dialogue with adolescents about these issues, a suggestion with which I agree. It would seem useful for educators to provide opportunities for students to talk about these issues openly.
 

The Importance of Affect in Learning

    The second major topic I wish to address is related to affect and its influence over learning English in Puerto Rico for these participants. Most of the participants in this study revealed that they did not learn English after twelve years of schooling. Affect in second-language learning refers to emotions or feelings (Brown, 1995) that are a part of the baggage a second-language learner brings to the learning scenario. This study, which focused on the classroom culture of learning English in Puerto Rico, has revealed deep inner thoughts about such affective issues. Research on affect and culture in second-language learning indicates that in some respects the learner acquires a "second identity," which is deeply rooted in the affective nature of acquiring another language (Brown, 1994; Brown, 1995; Valdes, 1986). In the cases of Maria and Jose, both were successful in learning English, and it seems that they were able to "feel American" and acquire a language personality. Interestingly, Diana, Juan, and Pablo appear to have developed a language ego (Guiora, 1972) from values, beliefs, and feelings about their Puerto Rican culture and do not appear to have acquired that second?language identity as easily.

    The interviews of these participants disclosed different forms of fear among them. For Diana, Juan, and Pablo,it was a fear of being ridiculed by their peers. Diana mentioned that she had such a marked accent that she did not dare to speak because
of fear of being ridiculed. In the particular case of Juan, he was afraid that the bilingual students in his class would laugh
at him if he mispronounced English words. Juan said that when his teachers asked him a question, he was so afraid he would not understand it that he would freeze and could not give the teacher the answer. Just being called on to respond affected him. Diana and Pablo said that they viewed the English language as "el cuco" (a bogeyman or monster) frightening them and i mpeding them from thinking about the questions, thus blocking their minds. Diana further mentioned that she was worried that other students would accuse her of being a "vende patria" (selling out her country and culture) if she defended English or spoke it well. The meaning that the participants attached to fear may have been deeper than they were able to describe, but according to the narrations included here, affect was a factor that impeded second-language learning for them.

    For Juan, Diana, Pablo, and Maria, the attitudes of their teachers were also an important factor in their English-language experience. They recalled some teachers who were unmotivated to teach English, and they therefore felt unmotivated themselves. However, they recalled at least one English teacher who did make a difference in their learning experience--one who was motivated, unthreatening, and who helped them minimize their fear of the English class.
 
    Students, of course, are not the only ones who have identity and cultural problems; teachers do, too. How do teachers feel about English-language learning in this context? In the past, as in the present, English teachers do not just present knowledge and facts but are people who are just as influenced as others by society. our political and cultural views are a part of who we are. Based on these assumptions, we select our methodologies, texts, and activities. These instructional choices will be passed on to our students, challenging or accommodating the existing ones (Benesch, 1994). I consider this to be an important factor for English teachers because they are confronting this issue in their classrooms daily.

    Future educators in the Education Program should be given ample time to reflect on their past experiences with English so that they can discuss and try to resolve the issues in relation to the teaching and learning of English in the particular context where they will work. It would be beneficial for each future educator to think over the experiences that were useful and those that were not. This reflection time could also be provided in teacher in service training so that we can begin to clarify our stance and recognize the biases we bring to the profession. Puerto Rico Tesol could play a role here. I have questioned many times what I am doing teaching English to a diversified population that has different interests and needs. Through the course of this study, I have looked at many issues differently.
 
    On the one hand, I have a greater sense of identity with my Puerto Rican culture; on the other hand, I also value my experiences in the United States. I know that both languages are important for my development as a professional and that I can contribute to the future of others by teaching English. But I accept that others may view the English language differently due to colonialism, and that subtlety will be crucial in my teaching techniques, approaches, and corrections. As reflective practitioners (Schon, 1983), once we have had this opportunity to think over these issues, we might be better prepared to deal with the teaching and learning of English in our context.

    Motivation is a part of affect in learning. For these participants, English is a necessary tool for social mobility and economic success. The participants spoke of the importance of English in order to get better paying jobs, to get a college education, and for travel. Juan missed a job promotion because he did not know enough English to prepare reports or speak over the phone with representatives of the company in the United States. Along the same line, Diana was unable to get a service job because she could not speak English. Both participants appeared well aware of the widespread use of English on the island and stated that their children will need to learn it to prepare for the future.

    An interesting finding throughout this study is Jose's instrumental and integrative motivation (Gardner & Lambert, 1972). In Jose's interviews, I found that he was not threatened by English and experienced minimal fear in his learning experience. He mentioned that his English experiences in school were the same .as with other subjects in school. Jose was educated in the rural public schools of the center of the island. All through high school he was an honor student. He was a risk taker and tried to speak English whenever he had a chance. During one of our interviews, we began speaking English, and I observed how comfortable and at ease he was when he spoke to me about his favorite hobby. This finding is interesting to me because Jose was born and raised on the island and not in an area where much English is used; nevertheless, he was highly motivated and successful at learning English. Issues of affect have worked differently for the participants of this study. For some, less learning has occurred; and for others, more. There seems to be a need, disposition, and willingness to learn English on the part of the learners, as well as in the home, the school system, and the community. Indeed, the widespread use of cable television, the Internet, the Worldwide Web, and other information systems will no doubt generate more interest in English on the part of students. Most Puerto Ricans are increasingly exposed to English through motion pictures and television. This exposure to English may have the greatest impact on English fluency for Puerto Ricans.

 

Issues Concerning curriculum and Methods

    The final topic I would like to discuss has to do with curriculum and methods. All but one of the participants in this study said that even after studying it for twelve years of school, they still have not learned English. They reported that the teaching methods used had an unfavorable effect on their learning. Specifically, they repeatedly said that oral communication is an important component of learning to speak English and they did too little of it in school. All participants felt that through their learning experiences in schools; speaking was not developed. Instead, they recalled that the major focus in learning English for them was through grammar: They remembered conjugating verbs and learning rules of grammar.

    The situation described by these participants has been borne out in my own experiences as a teacher at the college level. Currently, I am teaching a remedial English course. When I asked my students about their past learning experiences with English, they mentioned the same aspects referred to by the participants of this study. The lack of meaningful teaching, faulty methods, and fear were the factors that influenced their language learning. In addition, they mentioned that they did not use English in their daily lives. These statements corroborate and confirm the themes presented in this study. I have also found that adults returning to college have in the past had experiences learning English through a grammar approach, and they continue to respond to those ways. Although I try to use inductive methods and techniques to teach my classes, students have stated that they want me to emphasize the structure of the language and appear not to value oral practice alone. Researchers on second?language acquisition (Brown, 1994; Dulay, Burt, & Krashen, 1972) report that adults are better able to handle abstract rules and concepts in second-language learning, so they can advance more rapidly. In addition, since they have been exposed to teaching and learning through rules, they will prefer what was done in the past. To me, these participants had studied the English language for a long time but had not learned to view it as a language of communication in formal schooling.
Recent literature on second-language learning stresses the importance of meaningful learning. In the past, the audio-lingual approach stressed rote-memory learning, and the participants in this study seem to have been influenced by this method. Many proponents of the communicative approach and the whole-language philosophy stress the integration of four skills:
listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These skills are interrelated, and their integration should diminish the emphasis
on rules and grammar. Whole language builds on whatever knowledge and experiences students bring to their studies. It
provides a rich amount of readings in which themes are integrated into the curriculum and all content areas. Whole language does not focus on workbooks or skill sheets. Instead, the skills are taught as communicative functions. By doing so, the role of risk as a way to encourage communication is highlighted. Through this philosophy, relevant reading materials provide opportunities to make learning to communicate enjoyable and interesting. From stories, students can engage in writing through authentic activities such as letter writing, journals, and learning logs. The philosophy emphasizes that learning is most effective when it is taught from the whole to its parts. These participants reported that the methods used when they were in school were not based on reading and writing.

    Whole language strategies have been recommended for the teaching of English in the public schools of Puerto Rico in the "Carta Circular" (December, 199,4). In this document, the secretary recommends a series of new texts for all public schools, of which some are anthologies of literature. These new textbooks are not grammar oriented as are the materials used in the past, but instead are based on reading. I was informed that the Department of Education had changed the grammatical focus of _ teaching English to an integrative one. According to some administrators, school districts are now engaging in this approach, and in service teacher training is being provided to new as well as to experienced faculty. The materials have been purchased, and schools have begun to use these anthologies in English classes. General comments are that in classroom observation visits, both teachers and students like this approach and that teaching and learning English are more challenging. It seems there has been an impact on English grades and test scores in the school districts.

    The evaluation guidelines for the Department of Education of Puerto Rico stress the importance of what is called "authentic assessment." In the past, tests were the sole means of evaluating student performance, and in Pablo's accounts, he was unjustly evaluated in his English grades in the elementary school. The implementation of whole language strategies might open the door for teachers to utilize additional ways of assessing students' outcomes through the use of, for example, portfolios, oral tests, team projects, self assessment, observations, and journals: Both students and teachers can in this way focus on the learning process, participate actively, and assume shared responsibility for learning.

    The participants in this study also stated that technology and language labs should be used in every public school. Pablo said that children are at the present time exposed, to so many video games and animations with attractive colors that anything in black and white is sure to bore them. In response to this finding, it should be noted that many schools are integrating the computer and multimedia resource centers to enhance Englishlanguage learning. Most universities are presenting grant proposals for federal funding to purchase the equipment and software necessary to transform traditional language labs, equipped with cassettes and headphones, into learning centers. However, it is also important to consider that, no matter how these learning centers are set up, time spent with computers or any technology is taking students away from authentic conversation with other students or a teacher.

Methodological Considerations

    I am a novice researcher and was completely new to qualitative research. I learned the value of ethnography as a challenging way to discover 'the intricacies and questions provoking excitement and passion in the categories and themes that emerged as the data were analyzed and recorded continuously.

    Many times I caught myself speculating about the findings, considering issues of confirmability and reliability. In the past, I used tests to interpret data, and I reported my findings from statistical analyses. Much of the analytic process then was to verify and corroborate the significance of these findings and present my interpretations of -them. In this study, I was the instrument on which all responsibility was placed for data interpretation gathered from the interviews and reporting it.

    Many times, as the analysis of the data became deeper, I would question whether I was being true to the meanings of my
participants. This was an enormous challenge that ,I feel has transformed me in many ways.  I have worked hard to build the necessary trust in myself to uncover the constructions (Ely et al., 1991) that were discerned in and shaped from the interviews with these participants in the context of Colinas. I developed perseverance and patience as I worked consistently without regard to discouragement from some of the obstacles we face, some visible and others not so visible. Many times I lost complete sections of texts on disks because of viruses and power failures. But I was able to retype from drafts. In spite of this, the excitement of the analytic process itself as I crafted the final draft made it all worthwhile.

    As a professional, I was also transformed. Writing the pieces of this,research study was challenging. In Puerto Rico, I teach English as a second language, and as embarrassing as it is to say, I had done minimal creative writing of the kind necessary for a qualitative study in English as a first language. I am a linguistics major and have a limited literature background. Time and time again, I found myself untying my own writing knots. Shaping and crafting stories helped me find my voice in the writing. I greatly appreciate this experience and want to continue to work and learn as a researcher. I would like to explore the characteristics of English--language learning in other cultural contexts in the future.

    Another of the important changes that occurred in me was to become a better person. Growing up in a big family made me very dependent on the criteria and approval of others. Later in life, I was faced with my own family of which I was in total charge. The independence that I acquired made me feel powerful, yet selfish and stubborn at times. In this research process, I learned the value of interdependence. one of the most valuable things I will cherish was my experience with my support partner,
Myrta Rosa. She and I, who are so different in many ways, learned from each other. We lived on different parts of?the island, had full?time jobs and families, yet as we worked on our dissertations, we balanced all of these responsibilities. We set dates on a calendar to meet along with our families to read our drafts and monitor our biases. our sessions began by cooking delicious meals; and while the children played, we "peer debriefed," looking for ways to move on toward our goal.
We also kept each other motivated through phone calls, mailings, and sometimes meeting at teacher conventions to reflect on our drafts. Many times I needed moral support because my Writing would not flow. "Hang in there," Myrta would tell me, "I have to rewrite, too." We also learned from the useful comments and suggestions our committee gave us when we met in New York and through the mail.

    I learned the value of such support and hope to encourage other researchers to appreciate qualitative research as a possible alternative for their area or topic of interest. It has been a worthy and respectable learning process for me in which I grew to trust myself as a flexible researcher and to trust the qualitative paradigm as well.

    Qualitative methods provided flexibility for me when I had to change my selection process. I was unable to find participants through announcements on billboards, so I looked for them in my own classes, recognizing the biases I brought to the study.  Furthermore, this method allowed me to change my research questions as I went through the interviews, narrowing them to
issues of politics, language policy, and certain aspects of teaching that I discovered. Doing this meant that 1 had to take
a researcher's stance. It meant putting more responsibility on me because I had to make decisions about the things I saw and
question them so that the "familiar" looked "unfamiliar." Many times in the interviews I noticed how I was asking and answering
questions from my own perspective. At times I feel I did not probe enough to continue interviewing. I admit my interviewing
skills needed to be sharper. I reflected on this in my log and was determined to guard against my biases and limitations as a
person. I believe I tried hard and consider this a learning experience.

    I am grateful to all for the encouragement and confidence that helped me finish this study, which I hope will contribute to the teaching and learning of English in Puerto Rico in its social, political, and cultural context.
 

Suggestions for Future Research

    I have tried in this study to describe five participants' views on teaching and learning of English in Puerto Rico, taking into account the social, political, economic, and other affective factors involved. Many questions have emerged; some of these will benefit from further qualitative research studies. The topic on language learning and identity appears to have importance because future decisions will be taken and English will probably be the deciding factor. I suggest a call to teachers and practitioners to conduct qualitative studies. to further explore this topic. By studying this phenomenon with groups inside academia, we could bring the attention of those findings to a broader audience.

    As mentioned previously, the Department of Education is in an initial phase of implementing a revised curriculum based on whole language. Because I did not study this aspect, it would be desirable to describe teacher commitment to these new approaches and to study whether their use is helping students learn English. Qualitative research provides for in depth interview studies that could explore the perspective of teachers.

    Whole language approaches may change the teaching and learning of English as a second language in the classrooms and schools of Puerto Rico. It would be interesting to explore whether such innovations support the development of communicativecompetence and bring about the introduction of teaching techniques that meet the needs and interests of Puerto Rican students. Further research will be necessary to describe and explore the appropriateness of learning materials. In this study, some participants mentioned the need for technology to facilitate the learning of English. What is the best use of language-learning centers with the computer as a learning tool? How can technology strengthen the English-language learning process?
 
Another topic of interest is the importance of affect in English?language learning. Many of the participants spoke of the fear of speaking English in class. Studies that can observe English classes through videotaping and observation to better understand the student?teacher interactions could bring us a better understanding of the importance of affect. When are students ready to be called on? How can we teachers be effective and understanding from the student's point of view?

    There are many questions we need to explore. Most importantly, we need to share findings to look for ways to improve the teaching and learning of English in Puerto Rico. I hope the findings of this study will be useful, for teachers and students who are concerned, just as I was, about the experiences of these participants in their context. I hope to spark interest in other researchers to stimulate further studies on these and related topics for the future betterment of the teaching and learning of English in Puerto Rico.

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