Understanding language use and social interaction in a French /English two -way immersion classroom

Stacy Moira Gayman, University of Pennsylvania


Despite the recent national effort to promote the study of foreign languages in the United States, there remains an exceedingly small number of Americans who are competent in a second or foreign language. Recently, language educators in the United States have been seeking ways to make Americans bilingual and biliterate. This effort has resulted in a trend of immersion education—the two-way immersion program. Two-way immersion programs are grade level or school wide programs that integrate language minority and majority students while teaching academic content, second language proficiency, and sociocultural understanding. Preliminary research suggests that well-implemented two-way programs are achieving their main goals of proficiency in two languages, high academic performance, and improved cross-cultural relations (Lindholm, 1990; Genessee, 1987; Christian, 1994–1996). However, there is very little empirical research that looks at actual classroom practices and even less that documents how students use the target language and integrate with their target peers. (For important exceptions see Wong-Filmore, 1982; Freeman, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998). Furthermore, of the few existing studies, all focus on language minority students. There is a gap in our understanding of how two-way immersion programs provide opportunities for language majority students to develop proficiency in the target language, interact with minority speakers, and develop intergroup relations. This study addresses these gaps by investigating the language use and social organization of learners enrolled in one two-way French/English kindergarten classroom. Specifically, it seeks to understand how English majority speakers use French and interact with their French peers during informal classroom activities. This study takes an interactional sociolinguistic perspective and focuses on how language is used by participants in communicative interactions to create contexts and infer meaning. Ethnographic microanalysis, the detailed analysis of participants' active construction of what they do (Erickson, 1996: 287), was used to capture details of the verbal and non-verbal behavior. Data for the study included documentation from participant observation, extensive fieldnotes, video and audio tapes, interviews, and questionnaires. In sum, this study contributes to our understanding of how students use language and how schools can organize their programs and practices to better meet the foreign language learning needs of individual students and the overall United States population.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Language arts|Educational sociology|Communication

Recommended Citation

Gayman, Stacy Moira, "Understanding language use and social interaction in a French /English two -way immersion classroom" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9976424.