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Cultural Competence and Identity in
Cross-cultural Adaptation: The Role of a
Vietnamese Heritage Language School

Valerie Miller Maloof
Gwinnett County Public Schools, Lawrenceville, GA, USA
Donald L. Rubin and Ann Neville Miller
University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA

The present study examines the role of a Vietnamese heritage language school in cross-cultural adaptation, as operationalised by the confluence of two independent variables,language competence andintegrated cultural identity. To characterise the students\u2019 language competencies and degree of integrated cultural identities, interview questionnaires of virtually a complete census of students in the school were analysed via descriptive statistics. Correlation and regression analyses were conducted to determine relations between each independent variable and demo- graphic factors (such as age at arrival in the USA and family milieu) and to determine relations between each independent variable and school factors (such as pattern of attendance and class participation). The findings suggest the heritage school experience was related to components of Vietnamese language competency but had little impact on integrated cultural identity. Age at arrival in the USA and family milieu played a more significant role in the cross-cultural adaptation process.

Keywords:bicultural competence, cross-cultural adaptation, heritage
language school, cultural identity, Vietnamese immigrants

Since the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975, nearly a million Vietnamese have fled their homes and settled in the USA (Barnes & Bennett, 2002). Like members of other ethnic groups, when these refugees and immigrants arrive, they immediately experience pressure to discard their native language and culture. US society\u00c1 the media, schools and peers\u00c1 demands assimilation to North American ways, especially in the area of language. In the main, the Vietnamese population has willingly accededto this demand, learning English and adopting whatever behaviours are necessary to become competent communicators within their new environment. The academic achievements of numerous Vietnamese\u00c1American students and the growing number of businesses run by Vietnamese\u00c1Americans attest to their general adaptive success (Bankston & Zhou, 1995; Rutledge, 1992; Zhou & Bankston, 2000). However, acculturation of this type by any ethnic community is not without its price. Increased knowledge of English is typically accompanied by rapid loss of the ethnic language\u00c1 usually in fewer than three generations (Veltman, 1983). The heritage culture itself is also vulnerable, for language is central to the enactment and celebration of all

1367-0050/06/02 255-19 $20.00/0
\u20132006 V.M. Maloofet al .
The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Vol. 9, No. 2, 2006
255
ethnic activity (Fishman, 1989). To gain competence in US communication
practices may mean losing competence in those of Vietnam.

Loss of heritage culture may precipitate a variety of relational and psychological stresses in Vietnamese\u00c1American youth, leaving them bereft of a strong sense of cultural identity. As they assimilate into US youth subcultures, academic performance of Vietnamese students tends to decline (Zhou & Bankston, 2000), and some resort to negative behaviour at school or even turn to delinquent or gang-related activity in the quest for a new identity (Long, 1996; Zhou, 1996). Lack of proficiency in the heritage language also contributes to intergenerational conflict as children become frustrated when they are unable to communicate effectively with their relatives or with peers in the old country. As family relationships weaken, parental authority corre- spondingly weakens, the older generation is hampered in its efforts to transmit ethnic values, and family unity often diminishes (Hinton, 1999; Wong- Fillmore, 1991).

To combat these trends, many Vietnamese across the USA\u00c1 like members of other immigrant and refugee groups\u00c1 have meticulously created commu- nities both to provide a variety of types of aid for their members and to retain their own culture andlanguage. Their adaptation is a delicate balance between conscientiously absorbing the aspects of US culture and language they need to survive, and yearning deeply to hold onto their ethnic roots. A key development in this balancing act, as in many other immigrant communities, has been the proliferation of heritage language schools. Because language policy issues have often reflected an antipathy toward heritage languages and cultures (Lippi-Greene, 1997; Tatalovich, 1995), historically it has been necessary for ethnic groups themselves to develop and operate these schools outside the US educational system. Fishman (2001) counted over 6500 such schools in the early 1980s.

However, little research has been conducted to uncover the extent to which these schools actually do fulfil their goals of maintaining students\u2019 cultural and linguistic heritage, as well as aiding them in successful integration with the host culture. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to examine the impact of a specific Vietnamese language school on two aspects of the acculturation of its students: (1) the development of communicative\u00c1 particularly sociolinguistic\u00c1 competence in both heritage and host cultures, what this study termslanguage competence oradditive bilingualism ; and (2) the strengthening of cultural identity with respect to both cultures, what we term anintegrated cultural identity. In so doing it considers implications for the relationship of heritage language schools to cultural adaptation.

The Relationship of Heritage Language Schools to Cultural
Competence and Identity

Fishman (1989) suggested heritage language schools are guided by the following assumptions: (1) that there is a consequential link between language and ethnicity, (2) that there is a possibility, feasibility and necessity of biculturalism and bilingualism, and (3) that the promotion of bilingualism and biculturalism occurs through planning and organisation. Because

256
The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

language has been seen as closely linked to the maintenance or development of ethnic identity, language instruction becomes the focus for these schools, although classes may be offered in a variety of other culturally relevant topics including religion, drawing, dancing, martial arts and even maths. Sports and exercise programmes may be available for parents, and schools may organise holiday celebrations (Fishman & Nahirny, 1966). Except in cases of pro- grammes fundedby religious organisations, financial support generally comes from tuition and fund raising. Teachers and administrators are mostly parent volunteers who donate their time and skills to running the schools (Branda- nus, 1988; Brecht & Ingold, 2002; Lu, 2001).

Language competence and additive bilingualism

The notion of the possibility and necessity of bicultural competence embodied in these schools is situated (1) in the concepts of additive versus subtractive bilingualism (Lambert, 1975), (2) in the psychological model of second-culture acquisition (LaFromboiseet al ., 1993), and (3) in the counter- balance model of family, school and socioinstitutional milieus (Landry & Allard, 1991a, 1991b, 1992; Landryet al., 1991). Each perspective articulates specific criteria for what it means to become competent in more than one language and culture.

Additive bilingualism has been stipulated by Landry and Allard (1991a, 1991b, 1992) as meeting three criteria: the individual must (a) demonstrate a high level of proficiency in communicative as well as cognitive-academic domains of both languages, (b) maintain a strong ethnolinguistic identity and positive attitudes toward both languages and cultures, and (c) have the opportunity to use the first language in more than isolated situations or social roles. These criteria closely parallel a more distinctly psychological model of second-language acquisition proffered by LaFromboiseet al . (1993), which in turn articulates six skills needed for bicultural competence: (1) knowledge of cultural beliefs and values, (2) positive attitude toward both groups, (3) bicultural efficacy, (4) communication competency, (5) role repertoire and (6) groundedness. Both models explicitly claim that individuals are capable of identifying with, and being competent in, two cultures simultaneously.

The degree to whichlearning a secondlanguage is additive or subtractive to first-language maintenance is contingent on several factors. One key is societal context (Lambert, 1975; Lawson & Sachdev, 2004; Yagburet al., 1999). For majority language groups, bilingual education is usually additive, because the first language is not in danger of being replaced by the second. However, for linguistic minority groups, bilingual education often becomes subtractive, because their first language use is curtailed. The counterbalance model (Landry & Allard, 1991a, 1991b, 1992; Landryet al., 1991) further suggests that family milieu, school milieu and socioinstitutional milieu can be expected to influence language development. For low-vitality language groups (Giles

et al., 1977), a high degree of ethnic language use in the family milieu and
school milieu can compensate for the overwhelming use of the host language
in the society. For high-vitality language groups, a high degree of second
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School
257

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