Speaking Korean in America: An Ethnographic Study of a Community-Based Korean Heritage Language School

Siwon Lee, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

In the United States, often referred to as a nation of immigrants, language diversity has been ironically concealed from public arenas by the displacing ideology of English monolingualism. Minoritized languages have been acknowledged and respected, but they have not been actively promoted and included in mainstream schools. In this context, many immigrant communities have strived to maintain their languages and cultures through community-based heritage language programs. Previous literature has highlighted the challenges these programs face due to inevitable lack of support and resources, as well as the conflicts between immigrant youth and older generations. Through the lens of ethnography of language policy and planning (Hornberger & Johnson, 2007), this study explores the space of a community-based Korean heritage language school in Philadelphia, which I deem as the site of struggle but also the site of promise for immigrant youth. Guided by the notions of communicative repertoires and speech communities (Blommaert & Backus, 2011; Gumperz, 1964), this study explores what linguistic practices teachers and students display, promote, or negotiate in the school, and how these practices construct their own definitions of “speaking and being Korean.” First, I trace students’ talk about the named codes around them, and discuss how students’ metacommentary reflects their monoglossic imagination of bilingual speakers, and how such imagination might motivate them in learning ‘the Korean language’ yet at the same time discourage them in the process. Then, the study delves into the language ecology of Korean language classrooms in the school, where literacy-focused activities and curricula promote the production of written repertoires of Korean, while creating a gap between the imposed repertoires and students’ existing repertoires. Then, I compare the language policies of two Korean language classrooms and explore the potential of translanguaging pedagogy as a tool for co-learning for both the teacher and students. Community-based heritage language programs may continue to be positioned as marginalized educational spaces in the U.S. context. Nonetheless, this study foregrounds the varied yet converging imaginations of its local actors in constantly pursuing and embracing their ethnic and linguistic heritage and highlights the importance of bringing these voices forward.

Subject Area

Sociolinguistics|Bilingual education|Education Policy

Recommended Citation

Lee, Siwon, "Speaking Korean in America: An Ethnographic Study of a Community-Based Korean Heritage Language School" (2019). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI27662692.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI27662692

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