NATIVE LANGUAGE ATTRITION: A NARRATIVE INQUIRY OF THE PERCEPTIONS OF BILINGUAL EDUCATION STUDENTS
Background: Language is a medium used by different cultures to protect their traditions and identities. At the university level, we encounter students who strive to become bilingual educators because Spanish is their native language. However, these students often struggle with the academic vocabulary in Spanish even though they entered the U.S. school system with Spanish as their native language. The limited use of Spanish and the limited academic instruction in Spanish, throughout their K-20 schooling trajectory, has led many university level students in the pursuit of a bilingual teacher certification to struggle in passing their Bilingual Target Language Proficiency Test (BTLPT). Purpose: This research study investigated perceived causes for native language attrition and challenges that bilingual students face throughout their educational careers in the attempt to preserve their native Spanish language. This research addressed the following question: What are the perceived causes of native language attrition for bilingual education students? Methods: This study utilized Clandinin and Connelly’s qualitative narrative inquiry approach to collect and analyze data. In this study, the researcher acquired evidence of causes of native language attrition through Zoom interviews of three bilingual education students and a personal journal where the researcher annotated reflections and experiences related to self and the participant’s stories. The researcher acquired narratives of the stories told by the bilingual education students using two semi- structured individual interviews (lasting about 15-20 minutes in length) and one focus group semi-structured interview (lasting about 30 minutes in length), in which all participants were present. The individual interviews allowed the participants to share their perceptions of possible reasons for native language attrition and how it has affected their journey as bilingual education students. The focus group, a semi-structured interview with open-ended responses allowed for the participants to share their insights in a collaborative experience. Throughout the study, the researcher kept a journal in which anecdotal notes and reflections were collected based on reflections and experiences that occurred to self and the participants throughout the study. Entries in the journal occurred after each interview, producing a total of seven entries. Each journal entry provided insight on the researcher’s own experiences with native language attrition and the struggles of becoming a bilingual certified teacher. The bilingual education students were selected through a purposive sampling design based on their enrollment in a bilingual education program at a local university voluntarily. As John W. Creswell suggests, the researcher retells the information gathered to combine the participants’ views with the researcher’s lived experiences in what is termed a collaborative narrative. The researcher narrated each of the participants’ lived experiences individually, interweaving the researcher’s own lived experiences as one of the stories. The researcher then analyzed the data for emergent themes. This study was reviewed by a second educator, who is also a bilingual educator and previously an adjunct professor at a university, in order to remove biases from the interpretation of the data acquired. This investigation allowed the researcher to tell the stories of the three bilingual education students’ lived experiences through a narrative approach. Findings: The study added to the literature regarding bilingual education students’ perceptions of the causes of native language attrition and what bilingual certification programs can do to better support students as they pursue a bilingual teacher certification. From the data, four major themes emerged: 1. Students are influenced by the environment regarding the use of the native language; 2. There is a need for K-12 schooling systems to offer programs that promote biliteracy; 3. The importance of promoting pride in culture and the native language at an early age; 4. The significance of offering further instruction of the academic language to promote native language development for bilingual education students in the higher education setting. Each finding was substantiated with participants’ responses and the personal experiences of the researcher. Conclusion: The findings suggested that participants’ perceptions of the frequency with which the native language is used lessened the attrition of the native language, which consequently could provide a higher rate of success in the Bilingual Target Language Proficiency Test.