A society contained, a culture maintained: An ethnography of second language acquisition in informal education

Valerie Susan Jakar, University of Pennsylvania


This ethnography of communication seeks to identify the factors that contribute to second-language acquisition and production in an environment, a residential summer camp, considered conducive to learning. Although English is the native tongue of ninety-five percent of the participants--North American youth whose families are affiliated with the Conservative Jewish movement--the official language of the camp is Hebrew. This study focuses on the linguistic input and its availability, interaction, classroom discourse, and the role of motivation and attitudes in language-learning situations. The data collected through participant observation, field notes, interviews, and audio and video recordings, spanned five camp seasons (ten months). A thick description is given of the setting, participants, and the scenes and events which represent camp life. Data analysis reveals that the social and educational conditions encourage participants to elicit information and respond positively to corrective feedback. Second-language use and behavior in the camp setting is largely formulaic in nature, consisting in predictable discourse in repetitive, socially acceptable situations. This affords participants opportunities to comprehend and practice newly acquired items in real situations. Further opportunities for language practice and presentation of self through second-language use are made available in the overt performances in regular camp activities, with their acknowledged performers and audiences, and in the covert performances which occur in informal, unplanned face-to-face interactions. Collectively, the conditions and features point to the camp setting as reflecting the qualities of an ideal language classroom.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Curricula|Teaching|Religious education

Recommended Citation

Jakar, Valerie Susan, "A society contained, a culture maintained: An ethnography of second language acquisition in informal education" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9543092.