Voluntary Writing in the Heritage Language: A Study of Biliterate Korean-Heritage Adolescents in the U.S.
Youngjoo Yi, Georgia State University
Until now, much of the research on heritage language (HL) education has focused on the use of oral language or traditional print-based texts by HL speakers who are born and raised in the U.S. In addition, many of the available studies concentrate on beginning-level HL students because few second generation immigrants reach advanced levels of literacy in Korean. Little is known about the use of the HL by individuals who are highly literate in both Korean and English. This paper attempts to address this gap by examining the voluntary writing practices of two adolescent Korean HL speakers with advanced proficiencies in both Korean and English. Through an inductive analysis of multiple data sources (interviews, literacy activity checklists, field notes, and literacy artifacts), this study shows that the two Korean adolescents moved fluidly between their two cultures and languages through their online and paper-based HL writing practices. In addition, their use of Korean in writing helped them socialize with their ethnic peer groups, pursue personal interests, and maintain ties with Korea on a daily basis. These findings inform HL literary instruction and offer insights into the ways HL literacy is situated in the daily lives of biliterate adolescents.
A rapid growth in the number of school-age linguistic minorities in recent years has brought new challenges to school educators and administrators. Much of the focus of researchers, educators, and even parents has been on the development of students' English language ability, especially as it relates to academic performance, although their experiences with the heritage language (HL) and culture are as important and meaningful as those with English.1 There is a general lack of understanding about heritage language speakers who are highly literate in both their HL and English and their use of these languages for various purposes in their daily lives. This study explores the ways bilingual HL speakers use their two languages in and out of school.
Among the immigrant populations in the United States, Asian Americans have been one of the fastest-growing groups over the past few decades, with their current total around 11.9 million, or 4.2 % of the total U.S. population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001). Korean immigrants constitute one of the largest groups of Asian Americans in the U.S. and are becoming increasingly diversified in "class, education level, and occupational status" (Lew, 2006, p. 15). Previous research on Korean HL learning and teaching has examined a range of issues, including benefits of and motivations for maintaining Korean (Cho, Cho, & Tse, 1997; Cho & Krashen, 2000); the role of HL in social relationships (Cho, 2000); HL learners' and/or parents' attitudes toward maintaining Korean (Cho, Shin, & Krashen, 2004; Shin, 2005); the relationship between the construction of ethnic/cultural identity and HL learning experiences (Jo, 2001, 2002; Lee, 2002; You, 2005); and HL maintenance through electronic literacy practices (Lee, 2006). Findings from these studies have contributed to expanding the knowledge base of Korean-language education. However, none of the studies that I know of has examined the use of Korean and English in writing by bilingual teenagers who are highly proficient in both languages.
Furthermore, much of the previous research on Korean as an HL focuses on either spoken language or Korean HL learning by young children or college students. According to Faltis & Wolfe (1999), adolescent language learners have been underrepresented in the field of language education as well as research subjects in studies on HL learning and teaching. Relatively little research has been directed at adolescent HL groups and, in particular, adolescent "transnational" populations (those who travel between the home and the host countries) and "Generation 1.5" students (who are mostly foreign-born but who immigrated to the U.S. as children or adolescents). The current study attempts to address this important gap in the literature.
Another notable gap in Korean HL research is that almost all available studies emphasize print-based literacy practices, with the notable exception of Lee (2006). An important finding in these studies is that "good quality, age-appropriate" print materials are critically lacking in many immigrant homes (Shin, 2005, p. 136), which makes it difficult for learners to develop literacy skills in their HL. However, as high-speed Internet becomes more widely available, a reinterpretation of the current conception of HL texts is called for, to take into account online literacy. Given that South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world with more than a quarter of the population having Internet access (International Telecommunication Union, 2006), and given the ample reading materials and writing opportunities in Korean available on the internet, Korean HL users' online writing practices provide a fruitful subject of investigation.
Lee's (2006) study is important to address here, due to its direct relevance to the current study. Lee examined the electronic literacy practices of two Korean American college students who maintained Korean weblogs, called "Cyworld" mini-homepages.2 One of Lee's major findings was that online literacy practices in Cyworld provided these students with authentic and meaningful opportunities to use the HL and develop social connections with other Korean speakers, both monolingual and bilingual Korean speakers living in the United States and Korea, leading to improved HL proficiency and a deeper attachment to Korean language and culture. While Lee's (2006) study focused on college-age students, the current study deals with high school students. Two research questions guided this study: (1) "What kinds of heritage language writing activities do Korean biliterate adolescents engage in?" and (2) "What functions do these writing activities serve in their lives?" To address these questions, I examined the writing practices of two adolescent Korean HL speakers, whom I will call Elizabeth and Mike (pseudonyms).
Elizabeth and Mike
The data for this study is drawn from a larger study on out-of-school literacy practices of Korean immigrant students in a Midwestern city in the United States (Yi, 2005). In the larger study, 30 Korean-heritage students were solicited through Korean community organizations and personal networks. The current study is based on two participants, Elizabeth (a 10th grader) and Mike (an 11th grader). These two students were chosen because even though both did not study Korean formally in the United States, they engaged actively in writing in Korean, and their literacy in Korean and English was identified as advanced based on their self-report as well as on my informal observations. I interacted regularly with both participants as their private tutor, which allowed me to learn about their literacy practices in Korean and English. In addition, I played the role of a mentor/counselor as Elizabeth, Mike and their friends sought my advice on issues including academics, trouble with parents, future plans, and romantic interests. I was able to establish a strong rapport with the students, which helped me gain a deeper understanding of their lives. In this way, I was not only a researcher, but a participant observer, receiving and giving help in a reciprocal relationship. Elizabeth and Mike had some notable similarities and differences in their immigration histories and educational backgrounds, as well as in their language learning experiences and literacy levels. Both had formal schooling in Korea and the U.S. and were Korean-English bilingual, had literacy skills in both languages and could navigate both cultures to varying degrees. Furthermore, both students had learned Chinese characters ('Hanja') in elementary school in Korea and studied Spanish as a foreign language in high school in the U.S. They were both enrolled in Spanish II at the time of this study. Mike can be described as a transnational, who travels back and forth between the U.S. and Korea on a regular basis, while Elizabeth can be considered as a Generation 1.5 student, whose family immigrated to the U.S. and does not intend to return to Korea.
Elizabeth is a shy 10th grader who came to America with her family (parents and her elder sister) when she was in 4th grade. The company her father worked for in Korea relocated him and his family to the U.S. Both of Elizabeth's parents have college degrees and come from high socioeconomic backgrounds. At the beginning of this study, Elizabeth had slightly more formal schooling in the U.S. than in Korea. Less than two years after her arrival in the U.S., she placed out of the ESL (English as a Second Language) program at her school and was mainstreamed. Her strong English skills allowed her to take an Honors English I class in Grade 9; however, she was taking a regular English II class during this study. An academic achiever, Elizabeth maintained a grade point average of 3.8 out of 4.0 in high school.
Since her arrival in the U.S., Elizabeth has lived in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood and attended schools with mostly white students. Most of her friends were white until she entered high school, when she started interacting more with Korean friends. Elizabeth described her change of peer groups from middle school to high school as follows:
In middle school, there were no Korean people. Since I had to hang out with Americans, I got along with them. I go to high school, I see like all the Koreans, I just like I always thought that they look so happy, you know. It [hanging out with Koreans] just looks more interesting to me. Since I'm like Korean, this year over the summer, I made a lot more Korean friends. And I felt that I connect with them more than Americans. Because Americans didn't understand something that I would go through and they didn't understand why it is that way and why I act that way. I guess this year, I am more comfortable around with Korean people. In middle school, I didn't much have a choice. (Interview, October 28, 2003)
Because Elizabeth interacted primarily with Korean heritage speakers in high school, writing in Korean became more purposeful and necessary for her.
With respect to her language use and language proficiency, Elizabeth rated herself on a four-item scale (poor, fair, good, and excellent) as "good" in all four skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) in English, as well as in speaking, listening, and reading in Korean. However, she rated her writing in Korean as "in the middle of fair and good." Interestingly, in a more global self-assessment she reported that "I'm comfortable with both [Korean and English]" (instant message, September 22, 2003), and "I don't think I have a huge dominant side.…I can't figure out which one is dominant. I use both sides pretty much equally." (Interview, February 13, 2004).
Although she reported being fluent in both languages, she had some difficulties with Korean grammar. For instance, in her writing samples, I found two major kinds of grammatical errors—inappropriate use of particles and incorrect conjugations—often made by English-speaking learners of Korean. These types of errors appeared frequently in her online postings. In a corpus of 24 online postings, 8 particle misuse errors and 18 conjugation errors were found (though possible typos were excluded). For example, she omitted the obligatory ending '서' in parentheses in the following example:
|"Though I didn't receive any (candies), I was simply happy for no reason."|
In addition, Elizabeth conjugated some verbs incorrectly as in the following example:
|'People who make me happy.'|
Despite these and other difficulties, Elizabeth used Korean as a tool for literacy at home. For example, she was often asked to write to-do-lists for her mother. She told me in an interview, "My mom just like recites what she needs and I sit down and write it down and make a checklist for her (in Korean)" (Interview, January 17, 2004). In addition, her social interactions with her Korean speaking peers influenced her writing activities in Korean.
Mike was a junior in high school and a transnational teenager at the time of this study. He was born in the U.S., but his family moved back to Korea when he was four years old. He went to elementary school in Korea and returned to the U.S. when he was in 6th grade with his elder brother and mother. His father taught at a university in Korea and visited his family in the U.S. two or three times a year. Mike's mother returned to Korea shortly before the beginning of the current study, and he was living only with his elder brother who was enrolled at a local university. Because Mike was one of three Korean students at his high school, he spent most of his time with non-Korean friends at school. However, Mike had substantial and regular interaction with Korean-heritage teenagers at a local Korean Catholic church where he was a member of the youth group. Mike was highly popular among his church friends, who often called him 'Ohio rising star.' He had an outgoing personality, was a hip-hop dancer, clarinet player, and an athlete (he played volleyball and soccer on his school teams), and was well liked by his peers. Although he spent quite a bit of time socializing with his Korean American friends, most of his out-of-school experiences centered around his computer. Mike planned to major in computer science in college and had a keen interest in computer technology.
Mike's response to the questionnaire showed an interesting combination of oral and writing skills in Korean and English. He self-reported on a four-item scale (poor, fair, good, and excellent) that both his reading and writing skills were "good" in Korean and English. On the other hand, he rated his speaking and listening skills in Korean to be "excellent," while evaluating his speaking and listening abilities in English as "fair." My observations of Mike's oral and written language use indicated that his overall proficiency in Korean was higher than Elizabeth's in that he rarely violated significant grammar rules, which I think is due to his longer and more substantial exposure to Korean and formal education in Korea. In addition, his frequent transnational communications (both oral and written) with his parents, relatives, and friends in Korea required that he use Korean in various contexts.
One important characteristic that Mike and Elizabeth shared is that both of them tended to choose English for formal writing. For instance, when I asked them to write a "literacy autobiography" in whichever language they preferred, they both wrote in English. They probably chose English because they saw the autobiography as a formal writing activity and because they were often assigned this kind of self-reflective writing in English in school. In contrast, Mike preferred Korean over English for informal writing, while Elizabeth did not have a clear preference for one language or the other. Their writing in Korean is mostly informal and among friends and family members, though they frequently code-switched between Korean and English.
Data Collection and Analysis
The data for this study are drawn from multiple sources, including interviews, literacy activity checklists completed by each participant every week for six months (from October 2003 to March 2004), my informal face-to-face and online conversations with Elizabeth and Mike, field notes, and literacy artifacts (e.g., literacy autobiographies and writing samples). With each participant, I conducted weekly semi-structured interviews that lasted between thirty and sixty minutes over a six month period. These interviews asked questions about the events recorded in the participants' weekly literacy activity checklists, including their motivations for engaging in certain writing activities and justifications for choosing either a print or an online medium, choice of language (Korean, English, or both), and the contexts and purposes for each type of writing. Both participants spoke in both Korean and English during the interviews.
In this study, I employed a qualitative multiple case methodology. According to Merriam (1998, pp. 29-30), qualitative case studies are "particularistic" and "thickly descriptive." That is, researchers of case studies seek both "what is common and what is particular about the case, but the end result regularly portrays something of the uncommon" (Stake, 2000, p. 438). A major benefit of the case study approach is that it produces "rich thick descriptions of the phenomenon under study" (Merriam, 1998, p. 30). The interview transcripts and field notes were arranged systematically and were entered into Nvivo (Version 7.0). The data were broken into manageable units (codes and sub-codes in the Nvivo program), and patterns and themes as well as linkages among them materialized as the data were analyzed in a recursive fashion (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998). In particular, this inductive analysis produced the following themes: (1) kinds of writing the participants produced, (2) topics of their writing, (3) choice of language (Korean, English), (4) contexts of writing activities (with whom, when, and where), (5) the functional significance of writing in Korean, (6) the participants' writing skills, and (7) their attitudes toward their perceived identities. This qualitative data analysis was an ongoing and recursive process throughout the data collection period as well as during the interpretive phase of the study.
To maintain validity, I employed triangulation, member-checks, a self-reflexive researcher journal, continuous observations, and an audit trail (see also, Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In particular, the participants and I conducted informal member checks during our weekly interview sessions and formal member checks in the final interview session. In these exchanges, the participants had ample opportunity to make comments, elaborate on certain points, and/or adjust my interpretations. I discuss the findings in the next section.
Results and Discussion
Question 1: "What Kinds of Heritage Language Writing Activities Do Korean Biliterate Adolescents Engage In?"
Elizabeth and Mike recorded their daily writing activities in literacy activity checklists. In this section, I discuss the five most frequent writing activities (instant messaging, online community postings, diary-writing, scheduling, and note-exchanging) that emerged from the checklist data.
1) Instant Messaging
For both Elizabeth and Mike, instant messaging (IM) easily constituted the most frequent writing activity. Mike, a heavy Internet user, reported sending instant messages for approximately 120 days over six months, while Elizabeth reported 78 days. Mike and his peers generated considerable text, which became clear on one occasion when I asked him whether he could save all his instant messaging for several days. He laughed and said that would be too much given that he chatted online with at least 7-10 different people per night while doing homework or other tasks at his computer between 7 and 11 p.m.
Both Elizabeth and Mike chatted online mostly with biliterate Korean American friends. The topics of Mike's IM included school-related matters (e.g., homework, report cards, a variety show, the homecoming party), hobbies (e.g., sports, music, movies), and teenage issues (e.g., romantic interests, a conflict with friends). The topics of Elizabeth's IM included relationships between friends, her emotions and feelings (e.g., being lonesome, bored, or jealous of her friends), and postings (e.g., online comics, novels, poems) that her friends posted in an online community called Welcome to Buckeye City, which she actively participated in with her Korean peers in her local area. For both participants, the IM served as an important socializing tool and a means of communication with their Korean-speaking friends. As they wrote IMs frequently and for specific purposes, the participants also practiced their writing in Korean. Furthermore, IMs appeared to be a welcome venue for exploring their interests and concerns with like-minded Korean heritage speakers.
The instant messaging system most commonly used by the participants and their peers was Microsoft Service Network (MSN). The screen display in Figure 1 shows three text windows in which separate online conversations took place simultaneously. In this example, I opened up the three windows to talk with different online chatters who created the following screen names: "Gracy+," "Kyusun," and "general exam." I did this while reading other Internet sites and using MS Word. Both Mike and Elizabeth reported engaging in this type of simultaneous, multiple online chatting sessions (see also, Jacobs, 2006 and Lewis and Fabos, 2005).
Figure 1. Screen display of my MSN instant messaging with three online chatters
Since I was allowed only partial access to their private online community and was not able to capture real-time online chatting, I frequently invited Mike and Elizabeth to chat with me online in English and Korean (29 times with Elizabeth and 33 times with Mike). Although I could not directly access their instant messaging, Mike in particular was a highly cooperative research participant and reported to me in detail about his online chats. While chatting with them, I deliberately switched between English and Korean to see how they would respond to the change in language. Interestingly, Elizabeth tended to switch to whatever language I used, as seen in the following IM between Elizabeth and me.
|(1)||Y3:||its really SHORT|
|(5)||Y:||remember that you said that you like to read and write|
|(7)||Y:||아닌가..? [isn't it?]|
|(8)||E:||yea i do|
|(9)||Y:||온통 남학생들 뿐이라.... [I have male students only]|
|(10)||E:||ㅎㅎ 제가 하나인가요? [am I the only one?]|
|(12)||Y:||나중에 설문지 간단히 한번 보고.. [I need to take a look at survey questionnaire collected]|
|(After 13 turns in Korean)|
|(13)||Y:||i meant .. working together.|
|(15)||Y:||but what i would like to know is.|
|(16)||Y:||what kinds of / why / how|
|(20)||Y:||out of school|
|(21)||E:||well i might be an exception.|
|(22)||E:||cuz i came around 4th grade.|
|(Instant messaging, September 22, 2003)|
I deliberately switched the language from English to Korean from line 7 in the above example, and Elizabeth switched to Korean from line 9. After 13 turns in Korean, I switched to English in line 13, and she followed me in English from line 21. Elizabeth and I switched between English and Korean three times in that IM.
On the contrary, almost all of my IM sessions with Mike (33 times) were in Korean, with English words mixed in occasionally. As the following IM between Mike and me shows, Mike preferred to use Korean with people who could speak and read Korean. The original IM took place in Korean and English. English translations follow the Korean texts in brackets.
엇 누나오셨네요. [Oh, older sister.5 You just logged in.]
|(3)||Y:||I was going to invite you.|
|(5)||Y:||I remembered what you said yesterday.|
|(6)||Y:||You were a bit scared of my bothering you ONLINE.|
|(8)||Y:||won the game?|
|(9)||M:||한국말로 해요 [Write in Korean, please.]|
(After 19 turns in Korean)
|(10)||Y:||참.. 근데, 왜 아까 한국말로 하라고 했니? [By the way, why did you tell me to write in Korean earlier?]|
|(11)||Y:||영어로 하는데 이상한가..? [Is it awkward to write in English?]|
|(12)||Y:||때론 더 편한데..[Sometimes, it's more convenient though..]|
|(13)||M:||원래 한국사람하고는 영어로 하면 [If I speak in English with Koreans]|
|(14)||M:||이상하던데요 ㅡㅡ [it's kind of weird.]|
|(15)||Y:||나도 그렇긴 하지.[I sometimes feel that way too.]|
자기가 저사람이 한국말 잘하는데 [When I know the other person can speak Korean well]
|(17)||M:||영어 쓰면은 [and speak English to them],|
|(18)||M:||좀 이상함.... [I just feel weird.]|
|(Instant messaging, October 3, 2003)|
This was my first IM exchange with Mike, who had invited me to chat with him online. Previously, we had corresponded over email three times, met twice at his church, and had one phone conversation. Mike knew that I was a native speaker of Korean, and he asked me to use Korean with him in line 9. Since this first chatting session, almost all of my online conversations with Mike were in Korean.
2) Online Community Postings
Participating in online communities was as important and meaningful as instant messaging to the participants, especially for Mike. While Mike posted online frequently (106 postings), Elizabeth posted only 24 times in the same time period. Mike once told me that he was a member of at least ten different online discussion groups in '다음 카페' (Daum Café) (e.g., on soccer, videogames, comics, and music). In addition, he participated actively in the previously mentioned local online community called Welcome to Buckeye City (WTBC), which was created and maintained by approximately 25 biliterate Korean-heritage adolescents in the Midwestern city in the U.S. where this study was conducted. Elizabeth also belonged to this group. All the members had already known or heard about one another through their schools or churches. In this online community, Mike served as a webmaster, shared a great deal of his own HL writing, and replied to others' postings (See Yi, 2007, 2008, for detailed accounts of the literacy practices in WTBC.)
An interesting finding is that although all the members of WTBC were well versed in both Korean and English, Korean seemed to operate as an unspoken official language of the community. All members used Korean primarily and English only occasionally. They used WTBC to keep abreast of events in Korea (e.g., popular culture, social, cultural, and political news) and maintain a link to Korean language and culture. For instance, the teenagers reviewed popular Korean music, movies, TV shows, Internet novels and comics. Figure 2 displays one of Mike's postings about a Korean national holiday, "한글날" ('Hangul-nal', or 'Korean Alphabet Day') which commemorates the invention of the Korean writing system on October 9th each year.
Figure 2. Screen display of an online community posting by Mike
In this posting, Mike stated that he found out that it was 'Korean Alphabet Day' while surfing other websites. Additionally, he added that he wanted to try to use "제대로 된 한글," which literally means "proper Korean" with correct spellings. Below Mike's posting at the bottom of the screen, another transnational teenage member of WTBC wrote a brief comment which stated that there were no grammatical errors in Mike's posting. He also urged Mike to use Korean words instead of foreign loan words. Both Mike and his friend seem to share a strong sense of pride in the Korean language, ('Hangul') and some sense of ownership of the language, as reflected in the posting, i.e., "좋은 우리 한글" ("good our Hangul"). These feelings must be related to their motivation for engaging in Korean literacy activities in their daily lives.
WTBC played a significant role for both Mike and Elizabeth who both had a strong attachment to this ethnic teenage online community. When asked about WTBC, they answered:
It [Welcome to Buckeye City] is just a place where people like teenagers, Korean teenagers who live in the Buckeye area like we know each other, a place we just can talk about anything like what happened today or write a poem, write a story and upload pictures in it. It's just a place that we can just hang out with friends and we can talk about. There is a page [section] you don't have to put your name, you can just put 'anonymous' and you can say whatever you want in there. If you got a problem, you can say it. People will reply. (Mike in an interview, November 2, 2003)
It [Welcome to Buckeye City] is like a really good place to go, when you don't have much things to do. It's just like I mean I sit on a computer and I'm excited to go to buckeye city to see what other people have been writing. And it's just interesting and it's just something to do and something that keeps you going socially and like getting you occupied at the same time. Interesting like read funny comics and see others. I guess it's another way to being close to like getting close to the people that you don't know well. You get to see the personality and you get to see how they like it stuff. (Elizabeth in an interview, November 13, 2003)
It is clear from the above excerpts that Mike, Elizabeth, and their peers enjoyed and thrived in this "community of practice (CoP)," which implies their active "participation" and "learning" (Lave & Wenger, 1991). According to Lave and Wenger (1991), learning means "participation in the social world" (p. 43), and a crucial process of and condition for learning is what they called "legitimate peripheral participation" (p. 29, 35). WTBC members' online activities indicate that they are involved in a community of practice. The three main characteristics of CoP, 'mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire' (Wenger, 1998), correspond to WTBC members' activities, which include composing, reading, and responding to postings ('mutual engagement'); enjoying and pursuing common interests or goals ('joint enterprise'), and sharing a secret code by writing in Korean ('shared repertoire'). WTBC, their community of practice, gives them the opportunity to learn Korean language and culture.
While Mike was an active participant in online communities, Elizabeth frequently wrote in one of her three diaries. She kept a print-based diary in Korean, an online diary in Korean in Cyworld (싸이월드), and an online diary in English in Xanga.6 Mike began keeping a diary in Cyworld in the middle of the data collection period (December 2003), because he decided that he wanted to start maintaining a record of events in his life. Both Elizabeth and Mike's diary entries in Cyworld were written primarily in Korean, but they inserted some English words and phrases. For instance, Elizabeth used the English phrase, "costume dress up," (despite the existence of the equivalent word in Korean) in an otherwise Korean sentence in the following example:
"오늘은 할로윈날이라서 학교에 costume dress up 하고 온사람들이 수두룩~~" (Because today was Halloween, so many people came to school dressed up in their costumes.).
On another occasion, Elizabeth used an English quote about happiness in an otherwise Korean journal entry (Figure 3). These examples show that bilingual code-switching is used as a communicative resource by biliterate individuals (Shin and Milroy, 2000). Elizabeth's ability to read a text in English and express her reactions to the reading in Korean shows that the two languages afford her fluidity and access to a wider range of meanings and interpretations than only one language.
Figure 3. Sample of Elizabeth's diary writing in Cyworld
Unlike print-based diaries, which are private, online diaries can be accessed by other people. Given that Elizabeth is generally shy, it was surprising to see her willingness to share her diary entries in public venues (Cyworld and Xanga). She explained why she and her peers needed to express themselves in such an open manner:
Maybe, they want some people to understand why they act the way they act. Or maybe it's for.. to make them feel better. Maybe just open out things. And you know, someone says something that they've been keeping in their mind all the time. When they say it aloud, you know that people see it and hear it. Maybe, you feel better about yourself, maybe it could be for attention. (Interview, October 30, 2003)
Adolescents' desires to express themselves and draw others' attention are often reflected in their diary entries. For instance, I noticed that both Elizabeth and Mike had a very clear sense of audience in their online diary entries, as can be seen in Figure 3, where Elizabeth introduces the English quote on happiness with "“즐감하세요”" [Please enjoy the quote.]
4) Scheduling and Note-exchanging
In addition to online writing, Elizabeth and Mike practiced print-based writing to varying degrees. Their habits differed mostly in the areas of scheduling (i.e., writing aimed at recording information which regulated daily activity) and note-exchanging (i.e., sharing notes among friends). These were important pastimes for Elizabeth but Mike rarely took part in them. When Mike did write a schedule, he used English, since it was for school. However, Elizabeth enjoyed writing to-do-lists as well as shopping lists for her mother, recording travel plans, and keeping diet journals. In addition, she took note-exchanging quite seriously, especially with her Korean-heritage peers at school:
[note-exchanging] is really meaningful because it's a symbolism of our friendship. And it's like a big important part of my life. It's not like I wouldn't be able to live [without that] kinda thing. But it's just one of the little joys at school life. (Interview, November 13, 2003).
Elizabeth even kept a "treasure" box of such notes. Interestingly, gender seemed to play a role in note writing. That is, among Elizabeth and her female peers, this type of communication was important and popular, whereas boys rarely exchanged notes. Mike even mentioned that note-exchanging was only for girls. However, the composition of their peer groups at school seems to have had an influence on their behavior. For example, Elizabeth mostly socialized with Korean-heritage peers at school with whom she often communicated in Korean via notes, whereas Mike did not have any Korean friends at his school, but hung around with his Korean American friends in cyberspace with Instant Messaging or participating in online communities. The significance of social peers will be discussed further in the next section.
Thus far, I have described the participants' five most frequent writing activities: instant messaging, online community participation, diaries, note-taking, and scheduling. In the next section, I discuss the functions of these writing activities in Elizabeth and Mike's daily lives while addressing the study's second research question.
Question 2: "What Functions Do Their HL Writing Activities Serve?"
The purpose of the second research question was to learn more about the functions of the participants' voluntary Korean writing practices. Answers to this question can also shed light on HL literacy education in general. This section focuses on three main functions of HL writing that emerged from the data: (1) socializing with ethnic peer groups, (2) pursuing personal interests, and (3) maintaining ties to the home country.
1) Socializing with Ethnic Peer Groups
The use of Korean for writing was related to the participants' active interaction with an "ethnic peer group" and their positive attitudes toward Korean language and culture. As noted earlier, both Elizabeth and Mike socialized with Korean heritage peers in various contexts (e.g., church, school, and cyberspace), but Elizabeth interacted with Korean-heritage peers mostly at school, whereas Mike socialized with his Korean-heritage peers mostly in cyberspace.
Elizabeth's use of Korean in her daily life was influenced at least in part by a key change in her peer group after entering high school. When interacting with American friends in middle school, Elizabeth tended to speak, read, and write only in English, the language she had in common with her friends. In fact, as Mike told me in an interview, "Oh, we [people at church] didn't think that Elizabeth can speak Korean [translated]." (Interview, November 2, 2003). However, her life changed once she started interacting with Korean friends in high school. As Elizabeth explained:
This year totally changed. It's just the way I look at my culture and look at myself.It's just a new perspective, I guess.I wasn't really comfortable with speaking in Korean in front of Americans. I used to think 'oh, that's really uncomfortable for them and Korean people.' But now I don't think anything of it. (Interview, December 3, 2003)
According to Tse (1998), this pattern is common among ethnic minorities. Tse's four-staged model of 'ethnic identity development' suggests that ethnic minorities like Elizabeth and Mike start exploring and embracing their heritage during stage 3 ('Ethnic Emergence') after experiencing stage 2 ('Ethnic Ambivalence/Evasion'). In the current study, Elizabeth seemed to have reached the "Ethnic Emergence" stage, which likely influenced her use of HL in daily life. Her interaction with Korean friends at school led Elizabeth to use more Korean than before, including in her reading and writing.
Conversely, writing in Korean might have helped her strengthen connections with her new circle of friends. For example, previously, she read short stories, mystery novels, romantic poems, and famous quotes in English online (e.g., The Friendship Page (n.d.) and FireHotQuotes (n.d.)) and exchanged notes and letters in English. As she started socializing more with Korean heritage speakers, she started enjoying those same activities in Korean. She started reading fashion and teen magazines as well as sayings, poems, romantic quotes, and humorous stories on Korean sites, such as Humor Nara [Humor Country] (n.d.), 7 Hobbang [Bread] (n.d.), 8 and Choungul [Good sayings] (n.d.) 9 It shows that her literacy experiences and preferences seemed to have transferred from English to Korean as she spent more time with Korean friends (in fact, she continued voluntary English literacy activities). In addition, she established new social relationships through her active involvement with Korean literacy (e.g., note-exchanging, sharing online postings, online chatting, emailing). Importantly, by doing so, she seemed to obtain more knowledge of Korean popular culture, thereby becoming more culturally literate. Given that, I argue that Elizabeth expanded and enriched her literate life by embracing voluntary, out-of-school writing activities both in Korean and English. (See Yi, 2005, for a full account of Elizabeth's encounters with English and Korean literacy outside of school).
Another function of HL writing was that the research participants and their peers used Korean as a "secret code." In Moje's study (2000), "adolescents" used their own symbols and language to signify "identification and membership" (p. 651). Similarly, Elizabeth and her peers solidified their social relationships and friendships with other Korean speakers by using a language that non-Korean speakers had no access to. For instance, Elizabeth, who often circulated notes among her friends at school, deliberately chose Korean so that neither the teachers nor American friends could understand the text if the notes were intercepted. The use of Korean also allowed the students to establish clear boundaries for membership in their social groups. For example, in Welcome to Buckeye City, almost all of the web postings were written in Korean, even though all the members were Korean-heritage students who could write in both Korean and English. The use of Korean effectively prevented any (Korean) Americans without literacy skills in Korean from joining the group.
2) Pursuing Personal Interests
Mike and Elizabeth practiced a variety of HL literacy activities for recreational purposes. For instance, Elizabeth collected recipes for Korean dishes, copied romantic quotes and poems in Korean, and exchanged notes with her peers. Mike liked to read and write about popular culture, especially Korean pop culture. For example, Mike reviewed Korean CDs online, posted Korean music concert videos and song lyrics, and commented on Korean movies and actors. He also emailed a Korean video game player to ask about game strategies.
Both Elizabeth's interest in cooking and poems and Mike's interest in music, sports, dance, and video-gaming facilitated their voluntary engagement with HL literacy practices. In a similar study, Camitta (1993) argued that African American youth who had a passion for "music, sports, and fashion" were more likely to engage in voluntary "vernacular writing" on personally meaningful topics (p. 228). Like these African American youth, the informants in the current study engaged voluntarily in non-academic, vernacular writing practices in HL that allowed them to pursue their personal interests in life. In addition, these vernacular writing activities, while often treated as less important kinds of writing, reinforced the importance of Korean among the informants and their peers (Heller, 1999).
3) Maintaining Ties to the Home Country
Both Elizabeth and Mike kept regular contact with their friends and relatives in Korea, which required them to use their HL. For example, Mike maintained an online community with a group of friends in Korea. In addition, he had regular phone conversations and exchanged instant messages with his parents in Korea. Previous research on Korean immigrants showed that communicating with family members and members of the heritage community in the U.S. is a major motivating factor in HL learning (Cho, Cho, & Tse, 1997; Cho, Shin, & Krashen, 2004). For Mike, HL learning was motivated by a desire to maintain ties to his home country.
Furthermore, the participants' HL literacy enabled them to have a "dual frame of reference" for exploring their experiences in the host country (Louie, 2006, p. 363). The importance of transnational ties for HL users has already been addressed in the literature (Min, 2000). From a transnational perspective, "success does not so much depend on abandoning their culture and language to embrace those of another society as on preserving their original cultural endowment" (Portes, Guarnizo, & Landolt, 1999, p. 229). Suarez-Orozco (2003) and Louie (2006) have also argued that immigrant students who develop transcultural identities are more likely to succeed at school and in the society (Suarez-Orozco, 2003, p. 193). Given the need for cross–cultural understanding in an increasingly global world, helping immigrants and transnationals develop HL literacy is an important and worthwhile task.
Conclusion and Implications
The purpose of the current study was to explore Korean adolescents' voluntary writing practices in HL and the functions of those practices. The findings suggest that ethnic peer dynamics and social networks have a significant influence on biliterate Korean-heritage adolescents' HL writing practices, particularly 'response-provoking' writing activities such as instant messaging, online community posting, note-exchanging, and online diary-writing. These activities involved interaction with peers in both Korean and English. To these adolescents, writing in Korean was voluntary, enjoyable, and purposeful; importantly, it helped them develop a great sense of fluency and confidence in and motivation for writing in HL. Although much of previous research has shown that parents play a critical role in heritage language education (Kondo-Brown, 2001; Tse, 2001), the current findings strongly suggest that peer community may be as important a factor for adolescents in developing HL literacy.
These results have several implications for heritage language education. One implication is that heritage language schools and communities should encourage HL learners to engage in voluntary writing activities in and beyond the classroom and should strive to promote HL peer networks in which members can freely explore their cultural heritage as well as learn literacy skills. Teachers at HL schools may encourage peer group interaction through "response-provoking" literacy activities like the ones outlined in this article. Specifically, teachers may help students create online HL communities and assign online activities that require the use of Korean. Online HL communities can be especially useful for HL students in regions where access to ethnic peer groups is limited. In addition, HL teachers, students, and their families may draw upon Korean movies, music, dramas, novels, comics, video clips, fashion magazines, games, and popular social networking sites available on the Internet for classroom and home use. For adolescents, sites that explore popular culture can be a contact point for developing cultural and linguistic literacy. As Shin (2005) asserts, "in order for minority languages to thrive, they must first be learned, used, and enjoyed by young people" (p. 154) [italics added].
Finally, I need to address some possible complications and constraints of voluntary writing practice despite all their benefits. Online literacy practices allow HL learners to have more authentic opportunities to use the HL, and yet, the learners are more likely to encounter non-standard grammar, misspellings, improper usage, and so forth in an online context, which may negatively influence HL learners' language development. Lee (2006) and Loewen (2008) acknowledge that HL learners can be confused about correct and standard forms of the language because of their exposure to deviated forms of language online (e.g., variations in spellings of the same word). However, given the ubiquitous use of the Internet and the importance of online literacy practices, HL learners should learn the forms and norms of online literacy practices, along with print-based formal literacy practices; additionally, they need to be cognizant of the existence of differences between online language use and offline, print-based formal literacy practices. As Lee (2006) and Loewen (2008) suggested, HL teachers can offer some form of explicit explanations or instruction about the distinction between the two. In addition, for those who do not have any formal HL instruction like Mike and Elizabeth, it is especially important for them to be encouraged to experience both vernacular, informal and formal literacy practices across online and offline spaces. This case study of two HL learners did not examine these complications of voluntary writing practice nor explored the influence of voluntary writing practice on the actual development of HL literacy. Future research is needed to examine whether or not and to what extent the types of texts (especially online texts) students read influence the way they write.
I am deeply grateful to the two editors, Jin Sook Lee and Sarah J. Shin, to Alan Hirvela at Ohio State and to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and helpful suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. I also thank the research participants, Mike and Elizabeth, for sharing their lives with me for this study. All errors and omissions are exclusively my own.
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1. I acknowledge that researchers (Carreira, 2004; Chevalier, 2004; Valdés, 2001; Wiley, 2001) have re-examined the definition of heritage language learners and their speakers; however, in this study, I employed Valdés (2000, p. 1) widely accepted and used definition of the heritage language learner as "someone who has been raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken" and "who speaks or merely understands the heritage language, and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language" (2001, p. 35). (back)
2. Cyworld is a South Korean web community site, with mini-homepages (a.k.a, 'minihompy,') which encompasses a photo gallery, diary section, guestbook, and personal bulletin board. (back)
3. The real screen names have been replaced with Y (Youngjoo) and E (Elizabeth). (back)
4. The real screen names have been replaced with M (Mike) and Y (Youngjoo). (back)
5. 'Older sister' is a term of address often used by Korean male speakers for older female friends. (back)
6. Xanga is one of the most popular blogging/networking services on the web. As of May 3, 2006, Alexa Internet rated Xanga the 21st most popular English-language website. (back)
7. This is one of the most popular Korean online cafés. It has been maintained since April 2000 and includes 1,610,979 registered members as of June 2007. It includes humorous stories, online novels, cartoons, and information about dieting, movies, and entertainers. (back)
8. This website includes daily good sayings, poems, and online 'apology' and 'celebration' boards, and funny pictures. (back)
9. This Korean website has been maintained since 2003 and it includes several subsections, called "poem, impression, meditation, new writer, story, life, admonition, speech, after reading, and recommend." In those sections, members share good poems, sayings, words, and stories as well as their reflections on novels, movies, and travels; amateur writers share their short novels, essays, letters, and journals. Choungul also displays the latest postings and recommended postings. (back)
Published: Monday, August 18, 2008