Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

52P Linguistic Acculturation and Emotional Well-Being In U.S. Schools

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Rose M. Perez, PhD, Assistant Professor, Fordham University, New York, NY
Background: The ability to speak English is a critical factor in a young immigrant's ability to participate in contexts outside the home and to excel academically in the United States. Indeed, research is often concerned with immigrant youths' school achievement or the absence of health problems or criminal activity. Researchers have also examined how the strains of acculturation affect Latino(a) adolescents' academic aspirations and role performance. There has been less attention to emotional antecedents, such as the experiences that help explain how young immigrants at different levels of linguistic preference/ability feel in school/work settings versus other contexts in which they spend time. This paper draws on person-context models, which predicate higher well-being when the context one spends time in is culturally familiar. This study, by combining a unique dataset with advanced statistical tools, allowed the opportunity to explore how the experience of well-being is moderated by the effect of language between the home and school contexts. It is hypothesized that congruence between the Latino adolescent and the contexts in which they spend time increases well-being.

Methods: Data from the base year of the 1993 to 1997 Alfred P. Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development employing the Experience Sampling Method allows multiple within-person comparisons, facilitating an understanding of how adolescents experienced well-being in different contexts. This analysis focused on how adolescents with different language abilities/preferences experienced well-being when in the context of family relative to when in school. How a group's reported well-being varied between one context and another is thought to indicate person-context congruence.

Results: Data show that across three well-being outcome variables—mood, self-esteem, and concentration—Spanish-dominant youth are shown to have higher levels of emotional well-being when with family more than in school. Youth who reported speaking Spanish most frequently experienced higher well-being when with family and lower well-being at school; in concentration they experienced zero change (not significant); in self-esteem they experienced a +.113 change (p < .05); and in mood they experienced a –.081 change (not significant). The reverse was true for Latinos with the ability to speak English and those who speak multiple languages. Latinos who learned Spanish first and English second have well-being scores that are much greater when at school than when with family; in mood they have a 0.429 change (p < .001); in self-esteem they have a 0.410 change (p < .001); and in concentration they have a 0.623 change (p < .001). Latinos whose first and current language is English report higher well-being when at school/work than when with family: they experienced a 0.372 change in mood (not significant); their self-esteem is +0.307 (not significant); and they have a 0.623 (p < .05) change in concentration. All in all, this data suggests that the close family bond, characteristic of Latino culture, loosens as one gains knowledge of English.

Implications for practice: Findings draw attention to the need to further understand how language moderates and affects social outcomes. For instance, do institutional accommodations tolerating cultural retention help preserve family harmony and / or assist children in feeling better or learning more from environments where they feel at home? An auxiliary benefit of this research is in the demonstration of the practical utility of a fixed effects model to reduce bias in cross-cultural research.