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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 and integrated cultural identity. To characterise the
students’ 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  the media, schools and peers 
demands assimilation to North American ways, especially in the area of
language. In the main, the Vietnamese population has willingly acceded to this
demand, learning English and adopting whatever behaviours are necessary to
become competent communicators within their new environment. The
academic achievements of numerous VietnameseAmerican students and
the growing number of businesses run by VietnameseAmericans 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  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 – 2006 V.M. Maloof et al .

The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism Vol. 9, No. 2, 2006

256 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

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 VietnameseAmerican 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  like members of
other immigrant and refugee groups  have meticulously created commu-
nities both to provide a variety of types of aid for their members and to retain
their own culture and language. 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’ 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 
particularly sociolinguistic  competence in both heritage and host cultures,
what this study terms language competence or additive bilingualism ; and (2) the
strengthening of cultural identity with respect to both cultures, what we term
an integrated 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
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School 257

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 funded by 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 (LaFromboise et al ., 1993), and (3) in the counter-
balance model of family, school and socioinstitutional milieus (Landry &
Allard, 1991a, 1991b, 1992; Landry et 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 LaFromboise et 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 which learning a second language is additive or subtractive to
first-language maintenance is contingent on several factors. One key is societal
context (Lambert, 1975; Lawson & Sachdev, 2004; Yagbur et 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; Landry et 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
258 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

language in the school milieu compensates for the predominant use of the
native language in the family milieu and socioinstitutional milieu.
Concepts of bicultural competence and additive bilingualism based on
these models challenge assimilative ideologies that depict an uncompromis-
ingly subtractive adaptation process and oppose views of the ethnic commu-
nity as a negative force opposing adaptation. Models which posit only a
subtractive outcome assume that the more an individual affiliates with,
participates in and depends on the ethnic community, the less likely it is that
the s/he will adapt to the host culture. An example of this perspective may be
found in Kim’s (1988, 2001) widely cited communication model of cross-
cultural adaptation, which offers a comprehensive representation of the
interplay of individual disposition, host environment, competence in host
communication and the individual’s resultant intercultural transformation.
Among these components, host communication competence is presented as
the ‘engine’ that triggers the adaptation process. It includes three elements: (a)
host mass and interpersonal communication, (b) ethnic mass and interperso-
nal communication, and (c) personal communication. Opportunities for host
mass and interpersonal communication are presumed to promote host
communication competence, but opportunities for ethnic mass and interper-
sonal communication are negatively associated with competence in the host
culture. Although she allows that in initial stages engaging in ethnic
communication facilitates the process of adaptation by providing social
support, Kim believes that long-term ethnic communication ‘delays or
interferes with the acquisition of host communication competence and active
participation in host communication channels’ (Kim, 1988: 127). The ethnic
community becomes a crutch for the individual, and diverts the individual
from engaging the host environment.
Some empirical studies have provided at least partial support for this
subtractive position. For example, persons with little ethnic community
support tend to have more favourable attitudes toward the host culture than
do those who are deeply integrated in ethnic organisations (Inglis &
Gudykunst, 1982), and high solidarity ethnic communities have indeed been
shown in some cases to deter their members from adopting host languages
(Milroy, 1980). Ethnic language use and preference have been similarly
associated with low assimilation (Berry et al ., 1989).
In contrast, pluralistic perspectives assert the possibility that an individual
may choose components of both cultures through additive acculturation
(Rumbaut, 1991). For example, strong ethnic communities have been found to
promote academic (Bankston, 1996; Gibson, 1988) and occupational success
(Min & Kim, 1999). Moreover, proficiency in a heritage language provides the
cognitive benefit of transferring language skills and serves as a source of social
capital (Bankston & Zhou, 1995). For immigrants who are immersed in
American society throughout the week, heritage language schools are ‘an
environment for cultural adjustment, identity confirmation, and social
acceptance, which is essential to their psychological well-being and quality
of life’ (Lu, 2001: 203), and therefore contribute positively to adjustment.
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School 259

Integrated cultural identity

Language proficiency among young immigrants and children of immi-
grants is integrally tied to the perception of their own cultural identity
(Gudykunst & Schmidt, 1988; Phinney, 1990). As Norton (1997) observed,
language, speakers and relationships are inseparable. Ethnic identity is
understood to refer not only to nominal self-identification as a member of
an ethnic group, but also to belongingness (how much the individual feels a
part of the group), centrality (how important the group is for personal
identity), evaluation (positive or negative feelings about the group) and
tradition (how much one practises ethnic behaviours and values) (Ward, 2001).
Membership in a group provides an individual with a sense of worth, and
thus triggers positive feelings and attitudes toward self and others, creating a
positive identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). According to ethnolinguistic vitality
theory (Giles et al ., 1977; Johnson et al ., 1983), likelihood of a positive ethnic
identity is influenced by the vitality, boundaries and status of a group as well
as the comparisons made between the ethnic group and other significant
groups. Identification with the ethnic group is more likely to be positive if the
individual is more affiliated with the ethnic group than any other group and
perceives the group as stable and vital in its societal context. It is the
recognition of this connection of language vitality at both individual and
community levels to factors in the ethnic identity of their youth that prompts
communities to institute heritage language schools.
In intercultural literature three dominant models are available for explain-
ing changes in cultural identity during the adaptation process (Ward, 2001).
The first parallels the assimilative models of host cultural competence already
described. In this view immigrants are seen as involved in a linear transition
from identification with the home culture toward identification with the host
culture. This shift in orientation takes place as they gradually adopt
behaviours, values and norms of their new environment. Obviously such a
unidirectional view of ethnic identity places a low value on the heritage
A second model views identification with home and host cultures as
counterbalancing one another in the adaptation process. Successful accultura-
tion is defined as a mid-point between assimilation and separation. Ward
(2001) suggests there are conceptual difficulties with this position, as
instruments tied to it fail to distinguish persons who weakly identify with
both cultures from those who identify strongly with each. Nevertheless it
appears to be the most popular of the three in psychological literature.
The third model conceptualises home and host culture identities as
independent domains. Identity is seen as situational (Collier & Thomas,
1988; Hecht et al ., 1993), so that persons can have multiple identities that they
negotiate according to the communication context. It is possible for indivi-
duals to: (1) guide their identity enactments according to the value system of
more than one culture; (2) value their identities as members of more than one
culture; and (3) feel a sense of belonging in more then one culture
simultaneously. In Ward’s (2001) analysis, this approach has attracted the
most attention in arenas of international and cross-cultural studies.
260 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

A well known model of this additive type is Berry’s (1990) integration of

home and host culture orientations into a two by two matrix with the resulting
four cells representing four acculturation strategies that immigrants may
manifest in managing the demands of the two cultural systems competing for
their allegiance. The four strategies are: (1) assimilation, i.e. willingness to be
absorbed into the host culture and to neglect one’s ethnic/home culture; (2)
integration, i.e. valuing both heritage and host culture; (3) separation, i.e.
privileging the home culture; and (4) marginalisation, i.e. rejecting both
cultures. There is evidence that integration is the strategy favoured by
newcomers to multicultural societies (Berry et al ., 1989) and even perhaps in
culturally homogenous societies (Sam, 1995). Although Berry framed the
orientations as adaptation strategies, they can be seen as representative of four
distinct identities (Bosher, 1995). The present study, therefore, has labelled the
type of identity associated with an integrative acculturation strategy as an
integrated cultural identity, and assumes that this type of identity is the most
effective means of resolving identity tensions experienced by immigrants and

Research questions
The overall purpose of the present study is to examine how a heritage
language school contributes to the cross-cultural adaptation process of its
students, both in terms of development of bicultural competence and creation
of an integrated cultural identity. Although we recognise that culturally
competent communication involves both nonverbal and verbal elements, this
study specifically investigates additive bilingualism as representative of
overall bicultural competence. It investigates the following research questions
with respect to students’ bilingualism: (1a) how can students’ bilingualism be
characterised? (1b) How do demographic factors relate to development of
students’ bilingualism? (1c) Most centrally, how do students’ heritage
language school experiences relate to development of students’ bilingualism?
With respect to students’ integrated cultural identities the study examines
the following questions: (2a) how can students’ integrated cultural identities
be characterised? (2b) How do demographic factors relate to the development
of the students’ integrated cultural identities? (2c) How do students’ heritage
language school experiences relate to the development of their integrated
cultural identities?

This investigation is a case study of one heritage language school at one
point in time. To determine the role of this Vietnamese heritage language
school, both qualitative and quantitative data were collected and the study
was organised into two phases: (1) uncovering the school goals and (2)
identifying the contribution of the school in the development of students’
additive bilingualism and integrated cultural identities. This report presents
results of phase 2 only. (See Maloof, 1998 for the full study from which the
portion reported here is drawn.)
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School 261

Site and sample

The heritage language school was housed in a Vietnamese Outreach Center
located within a multiethnic residential neighbourhood in metropolitan
Atlanta. The outreach centre provided numerous social, educational and
counselling services to the Vietnamese community and was also instrumental
in promoting cultural events. At the time of the study, the Outreach Center had
been in existence five years. During the first two years, the facilities consisted
of a one-bedroom apartment and an outdoor classroom. The school met only
on Saturday mornings. Within five years, the enrolment had grown from fewer
than 10 students to over 50.
The school was selected for study specifically because of its goals, which
were (1) to foster maintenance of Vietnamese culture and language and (2) to
promote biculturalism. This is precisely the set of goals that, if achieved, could
be expected to counteract subtractive bilingualism (Lambert, 1975; Landry &
Allard, 1992), reduce separation and marginalisation (Berry, 1990), and lend
support for the appropriateness of a pluralistic model of adaptation.
All 50 registered students in the outreach centre were approached with a
request for participation. Thirty-three returned their consent forms with parent
signatures. This 65% participation rate represents strong cooperation in light
of the cultural sanctions against signing official forms and disclosing
information to outsiders. Participants ranged in age from 9 to 18. All but
two had lived in the USA for over two years, with the largest number having
been in the country between two and five years. Thirteen were US born, and
over half had first arrived in the USA between the ages of four and nine. Over
half of the sample had attended the school for less than one year, and the
majority attended class once a week.

A student questionnaire was developed to measure bicultural competencies
and integrated cultural identity in addition to obtaining demographic
information and data related to class participation, length of attendance and
pattern of attendance. The questionnaire was written entirely in English;
translators were used as needed.

Additive bilingualism
Following Landry and Allard (1991a, 1991b, 1992), additive bilingualism
was defined as: (a) demonstrating a high level of proficiency in both
communicative and cognitive-academic domains of both ethnic and host
languages, (b) maintaining positive attitudes towards both languages, and (c)
having the opportunity to use the first language in more than isolated
situations or social roles. Collectively, these three criteria constitute a more
stringent standard for bilingualism than is common among some conceptua-
lisations that focus only on basic interpersonal communication skills in the
second culture (Cummins, 2003). Rather, these criteria are consistent with a
notion of cognitive-academic language proficiency associated with success in
the host culture public schools. The questionnaire included items that
pertained to each of the three criteria.
262 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

Language proficiency was examined in two domains: (1) communicative

and (2) cultural content. The communicative domain was determined by self-
reported proficiency ratings for (1a) understanding, (1b) speaking, (1c) reading
and (1d) writing both languages, and also (1e) self-reported ratings of the
ability to communicate in the languages in a variety of situations ranging in
difficulty (e.g. ‘You are asking someone for a phone number in Vietnamese’
and ‘You are explaining the rules of a game to someone in English’). The
cultural content domain was determined by inquiring about such cultural
artefacts as proverbs and ethnic holidays (e.g. ‘Name a Vietnamese game’ and
‘Tell me an American proverb and its meaning’). Items in this section were
adapted from previous instruments (Bankston & Zhou, 1995; Landry & Allard,
1991a, 1991b, 1992). With the exception of the cultural content questions,
students self-assessed their proficiency with nine-interval Likert scales (1 /
not at all; 9 /very well). The Vietnamese cognitive competence scale included
a third domain in which outreach centre teachers reported each student’s
proficiency in (3a) understanding, (3b) speaking, (3c) reading and (3d) writing
in Vietnamese. After three items were removed from the cultural content scale,
the reliability levels (Cronbach’s alpha for these and all subsequent reliability
estimates; the desirable value for statistic is a /0.80) for English and
Vietnamese cognitive competence scales were 0.94 and 0.90 respectively.
Language attitudes were measured by assessing how important the
language was to the student (e.g. ‘How important is it to you to speak
English’ and ‘How important is it to you to read/write in Vietnamese’). Nine-
interval Likert scales (1 /not at all important; 9 /of great importance) were
used. The reliability levels for English and Vietnamese affective competence
scales were 0.76 and 0.79, respectively.
Opportunity to use the ethnic language was measured by asking students to
determine their frequency of language use in 11 situations (e.g. ‘With your
father, you speak Vietnamese . . .’ and ‘When you watch videos or go to
movies, they are presented in English . . .’). Nine-interval Likert scales (1 /
never; 9 /always) were used. The situations were taken directly from Landry
and Allard’s (1991a, 1991b, 1992) questionnaire. The reliability level for both
English and Vietnamese behavioural competence scales was 0.90.

Integrated cultural identity

Adapted from social psychological literature on identity (e.g. Landry &
Allard, 1992; Phinney & Rosenthal, 1992; Tajfel & Turner, 1986), integrated
cultural identity was defined as follows: (a) the individual’s behaviour is
guided by the value system of more than one culture; (b) the individual holds
positive attitudes towards more than one culture; and (c) the individual feels a
sense of belonging in more than one culture.
The values component of integrated cultural identity was composed of
statements representing 20 values, 10 specific to each Asian and Western
cultures, which were adopted from Bosher (1995) (e.g. ‘Young adults should
live with their parents until they get married’ and ‘It is not necessary to respect
the elderly’). Using nine-interval Likert scales (1 /strongly disagree; 9 /
strongly agree), students rated the extent to which they agreed with each
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School 263

statement. The reliability levels for English and Vietnamese value scales were
0.73 and 0.77 respectively.
Students responded to the attitude component of integrated cultural identity
through nine-interval Likert scales (1 /strongly disagree; 9 /strongly agree),
on which they rated the extent to which they agreed with statements regarding
the value of the culture, pride in the culture and the importance of
participating in the culture (e.g. ‘I feel proud to be Vietnamese’ and ‘It is
important to take part in American culture’). Statements were modified from
Bosher’s (1995) study. The reliability level for both English and Vietnamese
attitude identity scales was 0.78.
The belongingness component used nine-interval Likert scales (1 /strongly
disagree; 9/strongly agree) to assess student affiliation with each culture (e.g.
‘When I think of my values, I consider myself Vietnamese . . .’ and ‘I think I
will marry someone who is American’). The statements in this section were
adopted from Landry and Allard’s (1991a, 1991b, 1992) questionnaire on
beliefs as an element in ethnolinguistic vitality. The reliability levels for
English and Vietnamese belongingness identity scales were 0.74 and 0.64,

Additional variables
An additional scale based on the counterbalance model developed by
Landry and Allard (1991a, 1991b, 1992) addressed family milieu . Based on nine-
interval Likert scales (1 /never; 9 /always), students rated the extent to
which Vietnamese language and culture were cultivated in their homes by
four mechanisms: (a) ethnic newspaper, (b) dinner conversation, (c) proverbs
and folk tales, and (d) other language use in the home. Statements were
primarily adapted from Sridhar’s (1985) measure. Reliability for this scale was
0.57, which is poor.
Outreach centre instructors assessed the classroom participation of students
based on the Student Participation Questionnaire (Finn et al ., 1991). This was
deemed an important variable, as it might reflect the intensity of students’
heritage language school experiences. Prior to administration, student
participation questionnaire items were discussed with the instructors and
adapted to the specific participation expectations of the school. A total of 10
statements were adapted (e.g. ‘This student participates in class discussions’
and ‘This student raises hand to volunteer information or answer questions’).
Reliability for this scale was 0.69, which is weak. Teachers also provided
information on the students’ length of attendance (the initial date of
registration) and attendance patterns (how many Saturdays a month the
student attended). Teachers also rated students’ Vietnamese and English
proficiency levels based on a single-item nine-interval scale. Because instruc-
tors were reluctant to rate the English proficiency level of the students, only
their ratings of the students’ Vietnamese proficiency were used in the data
264 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

Results are presented in two sections: the contribution of the heritage
language school to (1) students’ additive bilingualism and (2) students’
integrated cultural identities.

Students’ additive bilingualism

To identify an overall composite of additive bilingualism, scores on the
proficiency, attitude and frequency of use were averaged. A frequency
distribution was then used to place each student in one of nine cells of a
3 /3 matrix. Students were divided into tritiles for both English and
Vietnamese languages. One student scored in the low group for competence
in both languages and no student scored in the high group in both languages.
Thus although low competency in both languages was rare, full additive
bilingualism, as defined in this study, was not observed. A total of 12 students
scored low in one language and high in the other, indicating for them a
monolingual pattern and a possible subtractive bilingual environment
(Lambert, 1975; Landry & Allard, 1991a, 1991b, 1992). Fifteen students were
in the middle tritile for at least one language, and these moderate scores were
combined with low (n /5), moderate (n /4) and high (n /6) scores for the
other language. It might be said that at least this latter group of six individuals
was approaching additive bilingualism.
Demographic factors in additive bilingualism
Bivariate correlations of interest appear in Table 1. As seen in the table, age
at arrival in the USA was negatively correlated with English language
variables and positively correlated with Vietnamese language proficiency
and frequency of use, although no significant relationship emerged with
attitude toward Vietnamese. Ethnic family milieu also negatively correlated
with frequency of English use and correlated positively with Vietnamese
proficiency and frequency of use. As noted in Table 2, multiple regression
analysis indicated that the combination of the four demographic predictors
(age at arrival, family milieu, number of household members and age at the
time of study) jointly explained over 30% of the total variance in every variable
for bilingualism except attitude toward English and Vietnamese.
School factors in bilingualism
Few of the bivariate correlations between the heritage school variables and
either English or Vietnamese language competence were statistically signifi-
cant. There was a moderate, negative relationship between class participation
and frequency of use of English, and a positive correlation between pattern of
attendance and frequency of use of Vietnamese. As shown in Table 2, multiple
regression analysis revealed that the three school variables (length of
attendance, regularity of attendance and class participation) jointly explained
23% of the variance in Vietnamese language proficiency and 25% of the
variance in frequency of Vietnamese language use.
In general, then, students manifested more monocultural than bicultural
competencies in that they generally reported a moderate to high level of
competence in one language in conjunction with a low to moderate level of
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School 265

Table 1 Correlations between school and demographic variables, and cultural

competence and identity

Age at Family Length of Class Pattern of

arrival milieu attend. participation attendance
Bilingual competence
English /0.65** /0.06 0.07 /0.31 /0.27
Attitude toward /0.35* /0.01 0.08 /0.25 /0.23
English freq. /0.82** /0.41* 0.22 /0.40* /0.12
of use
Vietnamese 0.62** 0.38* 0.20 0.50** /0.07
Attitude toward /0.08 0.15 0.04 /0.18 0.23
Viet. freq. of use 0.74** 0.49** /0.06 0.39* 0.34
Cultural identity
US attitudes 0.15 /0.08 0.11 /0.05 /0.05
US belonging /0.28 /0.08 /0.40* /0.02 0.04
US values /0.26 0.00 /0.10 /0.22 0.04
Viet. attitudes /0.04 0.30 /0.05 /0.18 0.07
Viet. belonging 0.37* 0.30 0.15 0.18 0.07
Viet. values 0.06 0.35* 0.16 /0.08 /0.02

*p B/0.05; **p B/0.01

competence in the other. Moreover, more intense participation in the heritage

language school predicted lower levels of English language use.

School contribution to student integrated cultural identities

As with language competencies, frequency distributions of student self-
report ratings for the three components of cultural identity  values, attitudes
and belongingness  were used to construct a 3/3 matrix and divide students
into tritiles. Students were distributed rather evenly across the low, moderate
and high domains of each culture. Four students scored high in both cultures,
suggesting that they had well integrated cultural identities as defined in this
study. Five students had low scores for both cultures, implying possible
marginalisation. Only six of the students were identified as low in one culture
and high in the other, which would be evidence of a distinctly separatist
identity. Eighteen students had a moderate score for at least one culture, in
266 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
Table 2 Regression of cultural competence and identity on demographic and school

Variables Demographic School

predictors1 predictors2
R2 adj. F R2 adj. F
English Proficiency 0.47 7.96** 0.13 2.66
Attitude toward 0.10 1.89 0.06 1.69
Frequency of 0.67 15.19** 0.16 2.80
Vietnamese Proficiency 0.32 4.68* 0.23 4.08*
Attitude toward 0.09 1.80 /0.02 0.79
Frequency of 0.63 12.78** 0.25 4.14*
US cultural identity Attitudes 0.03 1.21 /0.08 0.20
Belongingness 0.04 1.37 0.10 2.13
Values /0.04 0.72 /0.04 0.62
Vietnamese cultural Attitudes 0.04 1.36 /0.06 0.39
Belongingness 0.07 1.63 /0.04 0.63
Values 0.08 1.66 /0.06 0.35
Joint influence of (a) age at arrival, (b) family milieu, (c) number of household members and (d)
age at time of study.
Joint influence of (a) length of attendance, (b) regularity of attendance and (c) amount of class
*p B/0.05; **p B/0.01

combination with low (n /7), moderate (n /3) and high (n /8) scores for the
other culture.

Demographic factors in integrated cultural identity

As reported in Table 1, no relation between the demographic variables and
US cultural identity was statistically significant. However, a positive correla-
tion emerged between age at arrival and Vietnamese belongingness, and
between family milieu and Vietnamese values. As indicated in Table 2, the
combination of the four demographic predictor variables failed to explain
substantial variance in any of the components of either US or Vietnamese or
integrated cultural identity.

School factors in bicultural identity

As shown in Table 2, with the exception of an inverse correlation between
length of attendance and sense of belongingness to US culture, the correlations
between US cultural identity and the heritage school variables failed to attain
statistical significance. No correlations between Vietnamese identity and the
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School 267

school variables attained statistical significance. These findings suggest that

the heritage school did not contribute to, or detract from, the development of
either US or Vietnamese cultural identity, or ultimately, to the development of
an integrated cultural identity.
In sum, students manifested more inclination toward integrated cultural
identities than they did toward additive bilingualism. However, neither the
demographic variables measured in this study nor exposure to heritage
language school helped to explain much of that integration.

Post hoc analysis of relation between bilingual competence and

integrated identity
Bilingual competence and integrated cultural identity are both postulated to
contribute to an additive acculturation. Yet the present data reveal among
students at this Vietnamese heritage language school evidence of integrated
cultural identity, but mainly monolingual language competence. To more
directly explore this unexpected relationship between language competencies
and cultural identity, a post hoc correlation analysis was run (see Table 3). Not
surprisingly, proficiency in, and frequency of use of, Vietnamese language
were both positively correlated with Vietnamese cultural beliefs. Strength of
Vietnamese cultural attitudes was likewise positively correlated with attitudes
toward using the Vietnamese language. Less predictably, there were also
significant positive relations between attitude toward using English and
proficiency in English and two Vietnamese culture variables  affinity toward

Table 3 Correlations among bilingual competence and integrated cultural identity


Bilingual Integrated identity components

components US US US Vietn. Vietn. Vietn.
attitudes beliefs values attitudes beliefs values
English /0.03 0.20 0.07 0.37* /0.02 0.38*
Attitude to- 0.14 0.09 /0.14 0.37* 0.20 0.68**
ward Eng.
English freq. 0.19 0.25 0.10 0.28 /0.07 0.11
of use
Vietn. /0.06 /0.19 /0.19 0.02 0.36* 0.10
Attitude 0.00 /0.20 /0.07 0.58* 0.33 0.33
Vietn. freq. /0.22 /0.22 /0.10 0.15 0.51* 0.19
of use

*p B/0.05; **p B/0.01

268 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

Vietnamese culture and strength of Vietnamese values. The latter correlation

was particularly strong, accounting for 46% of the variance in each variable.
No statistically significant correlations emerged between US identity variables
and either English or Vietnamese cultural competency variables.

From the perspective of theory, the most interesting conclusion warranted
by this study is that the relationship between ethnic language maintenance
and cultural identity among these students was a complex one (Eastman, 1984;
Edwards, 1985). A strong ethnic identity was positively correlated not only to
competence in the ethnic language, but  unexpectedly  to competence in the
English language as well. Furthermore, the bivariate distribution matrices
revealed generally monolingual language competencies for this group of
students, yet accompanied by more integrated bicultural identities. Although
proponents of heritage language schools assert that language is central to
transmitting culture (Fishman, 1966, 1989), the discrepancy between the
students’ language competencies and integrated cultural identities in this
study suggests it is possible that several of the students identified strongly
with the Vietnamese community despite their lack of functional Vietnamese
language competencies. Results of this study at least offer the possibility that
an integrative cultural identity, with its appreciation for values of both cultures
and dual sense of belonging, is a feasible outcome of acculturation, even when
additive bilingualism is not present.
Proponents of pluralistic approaches to multicultural education ought to
take particular inspiration from the finding in this study regarding the
salubrious impact of attitudes toward the ethnic culture. Students who held
particularly positive attitudes toward Vietnamese culture also tended to hold
especially positive attitudes toward English language use, and reported
especially frequent use of English. Apparently positive esteem toward their
home cultures enabled students to embrace the host culture language
On the other hand, the fact that 12 of the 33 students were identified as low
in one language competence and high in the other  none were high in both 
indicates a lack of additive bilingualism, if indeed it is not evidence for
subtractive bilingualism. Further support for this assessment is provided by
the finding that the younger the student’s age at arrival in the USA, or the
longer the length of residence in the dominant host culture, the more likely the
ethnic language was to be disposed of in favour of the host language. When
students arrive in the USA, young students are bombarded with English as the
language of instruction in the public schools and as the language in society.
With limited opportunities to use their ethnic languages anywhere but in their
own households, their competence in their ethnic language erodes. Students
born in the USA may never become culturally competent in their heritage
The impact of the family context in the present study corroborates Landry
and Allard’s counterbalance model (1991a, 1991b), which asserts that for low-
vitality groups in high-vitality contexts  such as the Vietnamese community
Role of a Vietnamese Heritage Language School 269

in the USA  institutional and family support provide the opportunities for
heritage language use that are crucial in counteracting the predominant host
Most disturbing is lack of compelling evidence for a role of the language
school itself in the development of additive bilingualism. In fact, this finding is
not inconsistent with patterns found among many afternoon Jewish religious
schools, which generally achieve appalling results in imparting Hebrew
language proficiency, yet manage to inculcate or maintain a keen sense of
ethnic cultural identification (Schoen, 1989). It is unclear whether the positive
relation found in the present study between regularity of attendance and
frequency of Vietnamese language use indicates that the language school
actually increased this element of ethnic competence. Instead, it may be that
attending the heritage language school provided more opportunities to
interact with and communicate with other Vietnamese children in Vietnamese.
That is, frequency of use of the ethnic language may simply be an alias for the
amount of time spent in the ethnic school. However, it is also possible that
students who already used Vietnamese frequently may have been more
interested in attending the heritage language school, or may have been more
encouraged by parents to attend.
Conversely, the negative relationship between length of attendance at the
school and sense of American belongingness could lend support to the
perspective that extensive heritage culture involvement is counterproductive
to the adaptation process, much as envisioned by Kim’s (2001) communicative
theory of adaptation. Why this is so is not clear, although it is possible that by
fully participating at the heritage language school, a student may have less
time to or be less motivated to engage in host culture youth activities.
Alternatively, those who have a strong sense of affinity to US culture may
simply have other, more American-associated, activities in which they choose
to engage, rather than attending language school. In other words, investing
afternoons and Saturdays attending the ethnic heritage school affects the
economy of discretionary time available to young people for engaging in host
culture events.
Though the results related to additive bilingualism are less than optimal, the
findings must be viewed in light of stringent criteria imposed by the term we
used  bicultural competence. The negative assessment we draw from the
impact of the language school on bicultural competence should be tempered
by the criteria that included academic proficiency (Cummins, 2003)  a rather
high standard for a Saturday programme to meet. However, we deliberately
chose this construct because to do otherwise would predestine the heritage
language training to less than full literacy. The efforts invested by students and
parents to attend the ethnic heritage school ought to yield the desired
dividends related to cross-cultural adaptation. Furthermore, the results in
this study pertaining to language proficiency were mainly based on self-report
measures. Although a few production items were included (recite a proverb in
Vietnamese), and teacher impressions of proficiency were also solicited, these
findings should be regarded as reflecting for the most part students’ own
perceptions of their language use and competence. As no systematic observa-
tions of use were conducted, nor any direct tests of proficiency, the accuracy of
270 The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism

the self-reports cannot be assessed. On the other hand, in considering avowed

social identity, self-perceptions are of paramount importance (Collier, 1994).
Another caveat that must be taken into account in interpreting these results
is the small sample size  only a single research site was studied. No doubt
caution is in order in extrapolating from these results to any other setting. On
the other hand, the 33 students who comprised the sample in this study did
constitute two-thirds of all students at the site. In the Vietnamese community,
as in other refugee committees, parents can sometimes be reluctant to sign
forms granting permission for data collection. In any event, care was taken to
conform to the rule of thumb that the number of participants should be at least
five times the number of variables in correlational analyses (Gorsuch, 1983:
332). Another methodological shortcoming that must be acknowledged in the
present study pertains to the reliabilities (internal consistency) of some of the
composite scales. The measures of family milieu, Vietnamese belongingness
and amount of participation in the heritage school all exhibited lower
reliabilities than is desirable. Despite low internal consistency reliability,
however, the construct of family milieu yielded meaningful results.
What, then, are heritage language schools accomplishing? The school under
investigation showed little impact on the acculturation processes of its
students. Instead, the most powerful predictive factors for additive bilingu-
alism and integrated cultural identity were family factors and demographic
variables (such as length of time in the USA and age at arrival). Although it is
risky to generalise from a sample this small and this localised, these results
should at least give pause to heritage language school personnel and the larger
ethnic communities. Being mindful of the low-vitality context of heritage
languages in the USA, these communities must pursue goals that counteract
the loss of their languages. They may need to consider a stronger emphasis on
classroom instruction in terms of longer time on task for language learning,
more engaging materials or a better conceived curriculum  especially for
students who arrived in the USA at a very young age and have had little
opportunity to use their heritage language. In light of current debates over
bilingual education, the English-only movement and the predominant
assimilative paradigm in the USA, the rapid loss of ethnic languages can be
overcome only by the support of families maintaining rich ethnic heritages
and ethnic communities providing institutions to supplement the public
schools. The subtractive bilingual environment and low-vitality context of
ethnic languages in the USA demand the active support of families and
communities, as asserted by Fishman over 30 years ago (1966).

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