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Bilingual immigrant students’ language-dependent accessibility of self-knowledge.



Many bilingual immigrant students in Germany face the situation that they have to engage in different languages depending on the respective contexts, such as using L1 at home but L2 in school. Knowledge about the self is acquired in social interactions and we therefore assume that it is linked to the language that is typically spoken within this context. We postulate that such a language-tag on self-knowledge results in differences in the accessibility of self-knowledge between bilingual immigrant students with context-dependent language use (separate language use pattern, S’LUP) and bilingual immigrant students with context-independent language use (fused language use pattern, F’LUP). To investigate this assumption we analyzed spontaneous self-descriptions 569 bilingual immigrant students (252 S’LUP, 317 F’LUP) attending school in Germany generated in their second language, German, while at school. Comparing S’LUP and F’LUP we could show that self-knowledge bound to the home-context was less accessible for students who typically do not speak German at home (S’LUP) compared to students who speak both their languages in the home context (F’LUP). In contrast, school-related self-knowledge was more easily accessible for students who typically speak German only when at school but not at home (S’LUP) compared to those speaking German across social settings (F’LUP). The alternative explanation that differences in the accessibility of school-related self-aspects might result from systematic differences in subjective importance can be ruled out, as a second self-measure in which participants rank-ordered a selection of given self-aspects revealed that F’LUP and S’LUP did not differ significantly regarding the rank assigned to the self-aspect “that I am a student of this school”.
As expected, surveyed in the German speaking context of the school-environment, students with separate language use pattern provided more school-related and fewer home-related self-
knowledge than students with fused language use patterns, while no differences were observed for the importance assigned to the self as a student of one's school.
Our findings suggest that students with separate language use pattern need our particular attention. First-language-instruction shall contribute to these students not separating knowledge about the
self in and out of school along language lines but to integrate them into a coherent structure organized by other feature than language. Also, a school welcoming and appreciating the learning
potential associated with cultural heterogeneity may support immigrant students to use their first and second language interchangeably, in both, in- and out-of-school contexts.
To describe myself most important is …
Bilingual studentslanguage-dependent accessibility of self-knowledge
Nanine Lilla1, Ute Gabriel2, Lysann Zander1& Bettina Hannover1
Context-dependency of bilingual immigrants‘ language use in Germany
School and home are two major contexts in which adolescents interact with their environment. For many bilingual
immigrant students in Germany these contexts are not only separated locally but also by language: They speak
German at school but their language of origin with their family when at home. According to PISA this situation
applies to a considerable share of the total population of 15-year-old students from immigrant families in Germany
(approx. 42%, OECD, 2010).
Does context-dependent language use impact the accessibility of self-knowledge?
As knowledge about the self arises from everyday social interactions we assume that aspects of the self that are
bound to a particular social context are tagged with the language typically spoken within this context and thus
particularly accessible in that language.
Hypothesis: Students with context-dependent (separate) language use produce
more school-related and fewer home-related self-descriptions than students who
use German and first language across settings (fused)
Figure. Mean proportions of school-related and family-related self-descriptions and mean importance assigned to the self-aspect
"that I am a student of this school" by language use pattern
Separate Fused: Equal Share Fused: L2 Prevailing
Mean proportion
Mean rank [1 to 7]
schoolcontext homecontext 'that I am a student of this school'
Implications for Language Policies and Educational Practices in culturally heterogeneous schools
What language do I talk
with my mother/
with my father?
1. I am _____________
2. I am _____________
3. I am _____________
Language use patterns
569 immigrant students from secondary schools in Germany were differentiated into three
language use pattern groups according to their self-reported language use with parents: only
first language (Separate language use pattern), first language and German in equal shares
(Fused: Equal Share) or German prevailing (Fused: L2 Prevailing).
School-related self vs. home-related self
In a survey in German students provided spontaneous self-descriptions (shortened version of
the Twenty Statement Test, Kuhn & Mc Partland, 1954) and finished a self-aspect ranking task
(Nario-Redmond et al., 2004).
To identify self-knowledge bound to particular contexts we developed a categorical coding
system to classify the self-description statements into school-related (e.g. I am a student) or
family-related (e.g. I am a sister) ones.
To exclude the alternative explanation that differences in the production of self-knowledge are
due to differences in importance we analysed the ranking participants had assigned to the self-
aspect „that I am a student of this school“.
1Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
2Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
Nanine Lilla
Research Associate
Department of Educational
Science and Psychology
Division of School and
Teaching Research
Freie Universität Berlin
Habelschwerdter Allee 45
14195 Berlin | Germany
phone: +49 30 838 56958
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