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Bilingualism and the Academic Achievement of First and Second Generation Asian Americans: Accommodation with or without Assimilation?

Publication Abstract

Mouw, Ted, and Yu Xie. 1999. "Bilingualism and the Academic Achievement of First and Second Generation Asian Americans: Accommodation with or without Assimilation?" American Sociological Review, 64(2): 232-252.

Recent scholarship on immigrant adaptation claims that immigrant minorities may achieve higher rates of social mobility by accommodating to the functional demands of American society while resisting unwanted cultural assimilation. One prominent indicator of this strategy of ìaccommodation without assimilationî is the incidence of bilingualism among the children of immigrants. Immigrant children who are fluent bilinguals can use their native language ability to preserve beneficial aspects of their ethnic culture while at the same time accommodating to the linguistic demands of an English-speaking society. It has been argued that bilingualism has a positive effect on the academic achievement of immigrants because it provides access to cultural capital and stimulates cognitive development. We test this claim using data on first- and second-generation Asian immigrants from the 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study. We find no evidence that bilingualism has a positive effect on achievement. Instead, native language use with parents has a temporary positive effect if the parents are not proficient in English. These results indicate that the academic importance of bilingualism is transitional rather than cognitive or cultural. There are educational benefits of delaying linguistic assimilation, but they exist only until immigrant parents achieve a moderate level of English language proficiency.

Dataset(s): 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS).

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