The relationship between bilingual proficiency and self-esteem

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<ul><li><p>THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BILINGUAL PROFICIENCY AND SELF-ESTEEM </p><p>JONA THAN W. PESNER and FRANK A ULD </p><p>University of Windsor </p><p>ABSTRACT. Proposing that bilingual proficiency should produce a more favorable attitude toward bilingualism and should enhance onei self-esteem, the authors compared 57 bilingual and 67 unilingual students from grades 9, IO, and 11, measuring their opinions about bilingualism and their self-esteem. The bilingual students are substantially more favorably disposed toward bi- lingualism than the unilingual students are. On the Janis-Field scale of self- esteem, the bilingual students show greater self-esteem than the unilingual students. The largest differences between the groups are on questions that measure self-confidence and social ease; differences are less pronounced on questions about self-worth and about shyness. We speculate that bilingual proficiency offers some psychological advantages to students who achieve it. </p><p>In the hope of discovering some of the consequences of young peoples learning a second language, we studied the attitudes toward bilingualism and the self-esteem of some high school stu- dents who speak only English and of other students who speak both English and French fluently. </p><p>The extensive research on second-language learning in Canada has focused on the characteristics of learners and of their environ- ment that enhance learning of a second language. This research shows that the student will learn more readily if he or she has an aptitude for learning languages (Carroll, 1974; Gardner &amp; Lambert, 1959) and if he or she is strongly motivated to learn the second language (Gardner &amp; Lambert, 1959, 1972). Researchers on second-language learning, in particular Gardner (1966), have distinguished two aspects of this motivation, the instrumental </p><p>The authors wish to express our thanks to Mr. G. Bemire, principal of the school that provided the subjects for this study, and to Drs. Henry Minton, John La Gaipa, Marie- Therese Caron, and Jean-Pierre DeVillers at the University of Windsor, who gave helpful advice. Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. Frank Auld, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9B 3P4. </p><p>339 </p></li><li><p>340 Jonathan W. Pesner and Frank Auld </p><p>and the integrative. As Taylor, Meynard, and Rheault (1977) write, Instrumentally motivated persons learn a second language mainly for its practical value, such as to qualify for a better job; an integrative motivation relfects a personal interest in the people and their culture and involves learning a second language in order to learn more about the group, meet more and varied people and to be able to think and behave like members of the other group (p. 102). </p><p>As to the learners environment, researchers have called atten- tion to social psychological processes such as the sensing of a threat to ethnic identity when one learns a second language (Tay- lor, Meynard, &amp; Rheault, 1977), the lessening of identification with ones own group when one participates in a total-immersion program for learning the other groups language (Genesee, Tucker, &amp; Lambert, 1978), and-for a French-speaking student who has little opportunity to practice English outside the classroom-the evoking of anxiety that one will not speak the second language correctly (Clement, 1977). </p><p>The rich fund of knowledge about what makes for effective learning of a second language-a body of knowledge that has been well summarized by Gardner, Smythe, Clement, and Gliksman (1976) and by Gardner, Gliksman, and Smythe (1978)-is not, so far as we are aware, matched by knowledge of the effects on the learners personality of his or her learning a second language. In the present study we try to contribute to the knowledge of such effects. </p><p>THE SETTING OF THE STUDY </p><p>The subjects of our study live in the Windsor metropolitan area, which stretches across the northern part of Essex County in south- western Ontario. In this area, according to the 1971 census (Canada, 1976) slightly more than 10% of the people report French as their mother tongue and about 13% list French as their official language or as one of their official languages, which is to say that they can understand and speak French. The number of people who report French as the language most often spoken in the home is much smaller, coming to about 4%. </p><p>In the millieu of Essex County, where French is the minority language, knowledge of English is necessary for employment and for most daily, public interactions. The students of this study who </p></li><li><p>chose to participate in the French-immersion program had, for the most part, little instruction in the French language before grade 9. In calling their program in grades 9, 10, and 11 a French- immersion program, we mean that all subjects are taught in French and that students are encouraged to use only French throughout the school day. Because these students intensive ex- posure to French came late, they would be described by the standards used by Genessee (1978) as participating in a lade French-imme~ion program. One might suppose, therefore, that their decision to participate in the program was an expression of preexisting attitudes toward bilingualism and of an already- developed identification with the French ethnic group (cf. Giles, Bourhis, &amp; Taylor, 1977, p. 326). </p><p>STATEMENT OF HYPOTHESES </p><p>Whether because of selective factors or because of the impact of the program, we do expect the bilingual students to be more fa- vorable to bilingualism and to be aware that their knowledge of French is a practical advantage (the inst~mental o~entation). The students should be aware that some jobs in the Canadian federal government, and most jobs in Quebec, require fluency in French. If the program has an impact over and above the selection factor we will find that the differences between unilingual and bilingual students increase, the longer the students have been in the French-imme~ion program. </p><p>What effects on the personality of a person already fluent in English should we expect from his or her becoming proficient in French? We would, of course expect that success in this task will increase the learners expectation of success in closely similar tasks-an empirical law that Frank (1935) and others established through their research on level of aspiration. If we accept the postulates that Coopersmith (1967) has set forth we would expect success in learning French also to have a broader result. Cooper- smith posits that self-esteem is dependent on ones ability to deal effectively with en~ronmental demands. According to Cooper- smith, when one achieves something that one believes to be valuable and worth aspiring to, ones self-esteem is enhanced. </p><p>Because Canadians believe that learning a second language is valuable (cf., Canada, 1977), students who learn the second lan- guage are likely to consider themselves to be better educated, to </p></li><li><p>342 Jonathan W. Pesner and Frank Auld </p><p>think of themselves as more cultured, and to judge themselves to have a skill that will broaden their occupational choices and en- hance their professional development. We therefore expected that their achievement would enhance self-esteem, and we predicted that bilingual students would be found to have higher scores on a measure of self-esteem. We believed, too, that the difference in self-esteem between the bilingual and the unilingual groups would increase from year to year, as the bilingual students proficiency in French developed. </p><p>Finally, we believe that a young person from a French back- ground, i.e., a person whose parents or grandparents spoke French and belonged to the French cultural group (as is true for at least 63% of the bilingual students in our sample), will develop greater self-esteem as he or she learns about the contributions that the French have made to the development of Canada and to literature, the arts, and science. </p><p>For all of these reasons, we predicted that the bilingual students would score higher than unilingual students on a scale of self- esteem. </p><p>METHOD </p><p>Subjects </p><p>Students from grades 9, 10, and 11 of a high school near Windsor supplied both a bilingual group of 28 boys and 29 girls and a unilingual group of 32 boys and 35 girls. For the bilingual group the principal selected from the French-immersion section of the school all students who had a functional command of both languages. We excluded two students who knew a third language, so that our focus would be on bilingualism rather than on multi- culturalism. </p><p>Of the bilingual students 23% came from lower middle-class families and the rest from lower-class families, according to our index of social position, Hollingsheads Two-Factor Index (cf., Myers &amp; Bean, 1968). (This index combines a rating of occupa- tional level-for which we used Blishens, 1958, rankings of occu- pational status in Canada-with a rating of educational attain- ment.) Of the unilingual students 9.5% were from the upper class, 9.5% from the upper-middle class, 33.3% from the lower-middle class, and the rest from lower class, according to the scores on the </p></li><li><p>343 </p><p>Two-Factor Index. In the bilingual group 36 reported French and 21 reported English to be the language of the home. In the uni- lingual group only 1 student gave French as the language of the home, the rest reporting English as the language of the home. </p><p>Procedure </p><p>~~te~ffl~. In order to test the hypothesis that the bionic stu- dents would be more favorable to bilin~alism, we used a ques- tionnaire soliciting opinions about bilingualism, about English- French relations in Canada, and about the young peoples beliefs concerning job opportunities in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. We drew 11 of the 12 items in this questionnaire from a study done by Johnstone (1969) for the Royal Commission on Bilin- gualism and Biculturalism. One question as Johnstone had used it asked, How important do you think each of the following things is in helping a young person to get ahead in Canadian life today? There followed a list of 10 personal qualities including, Be able to speak both French and English. We revised this question to read, How important do you think being able to speak both English and French is in helping a person to get ahead in Canadian life today? (We ignored the other nine qualities.) To these 11 opinion questions we added a twelfth of our own, DO you think the issue of b~n~~isrn has been emphasized too much in current Canadian affairs? </p><p>Because seven of these 12 items deal with attitudes toward bilingualism, we combined these 7 into a scale on bilingualism. These items were in multiple-choice format, each having 3 al- ternatives. We combined the items into a scale by splitting each item at its median and scoring it dichotomously. The resulting scale has a K-R 20 reliability of .77. </p><p>Three of the 12 questions dealt with judgments about how good English-French relations are and will be in the future. These were in multiple-choice format, each question having 4 alternatives. </p><p>Two questions dealt with jud~ents about the respondents job prospects, in Ontario and in other provinces of Canada. These questions were in multiple-choice format, with 5 alternatives. We may consider these items as relevant to the instrumental orienta- tion that researchers such as Gardner (1966) have defined. </p><p>In order to test the hypotheses that bilingual students have </p></li><li><p>344 Jonathan W. Pesner and Frank Auld </p><p>higher self-esteem than unilingual students, and that the difference between groups increases from grade 9 through grade 11, we used Eaglys (1967) version of the Janis-Field Feelings of Inadequacy Scale (cf., Hovland &amp; Janis, 1959). Obviously, self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy are opposites; in deriving a self-esteem score from the Janis-Field Scale, we reversed the direction of scoring. Each of the 20 items was presented in the format of a Likert scale; we gave scoring weights of 0 through 4 to the five alternatives. The highest possible score on the scale, therefore is 80. According to Crandall (1973), who described this scale as the best measure of self-esteem, split-half reliabilities have ranged between .72 and 88. In our sample the alpha reliability is .84. </p><p>Dutu CoZZection. The first author administered the questionnaires to all 124 students in the course of a single day, in order to avoid so far as possible having the responses of the students who took the questionnaire later, influenced by their discussing the ques- tions with those who had taken it earlier. </p><p>Besides asking for opinions about bilingualism, for judgments about English-French relations, for estimates of job prospects, and for responses from which we hoped to measure self-esteem, we inquired about the occupation and the education of the students father, and we asked the student which language was spoken more often in the home. In order to guarantee confidentiality, we did not ask for the students name. This decision made it impossible to use such other data as intelligence-test scores from the school files and grade-point averages as covariates or matching variables. We accepted this limitation because we believed that the stress on anonymity and confidentiality was essential to obtaining honest responses. </p><p>RESULTS </p><p>Having observed that half of the unilingual group was from middle-class families, whereas only a quarter of the bilingual group was from middle-class families, we decided to control for social class of the respondent in any of our analyses when there was a substantial or a statistically significant correlation between the Two-Factor Index and the dependent variable. </p></li><li><p>Bilingual Proficiency 345 </p><p>Attitudes about Bilingualism </p><p>The bilingual students are, as predicted, more favorably dis- posed toward bilingualism. Taking the seven items that elicit opinions about bilingualism as our measure, we found that the bilingual students have a mean score of 5.93, the unilingual stu- dents a mean of 3.73. In the analysis of covariance (with the Two- Factor Index the covariate), F (1, 108) = 26.2 1, p &lt; .OOl. Lower social status and more favorable opinions about bilingualism go together; r(l13) = .36, p &lt; .OOl. (Because higher social status gets a lower score on the Two-Factor Index, a negative relationship between status and favorable attitude yields a positive r.) Howev- er, this overall relationship is the result, in part, of the fact that the bilingual group is of lower social status on the average. Within the bilingual group alone, the correlation between social status and the 7-point scale is negligible, ~(50) = .03, not significant. Within the unilingual group there is a small correlation between social class and bilingualism score; r(6 1) = .2 1, p &lt; .05. </p><p>When we looked at the two items that probe beliefs about job opportunities, we found no difference between the bilingual and the unilingual students on the question asking about opportunities within the province, but a significant difference on the question asking about opportunities el...</p></li></ul>