Examining the Teaching and Learning of English in an Immersion Program in Honduras

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Bettney, Esther
Bilingual education , Latin America , Second language teaching , Second language learning , Applied linguistics , Immersion education , Honduras , Central America
Research in bilingual education, including immersion education, has received increasing attention; yet such research does not have an empirical grounding in Central America, a geographic area of the world with an increasing number of schools employing a Spanish-English immersion model. In Honduras, students in bilingual schools typically outperform their monolingual peers on national university admission examinations, yet there are identified issues within these programs pertaining to English achievement. This study was conducted at The Pines Bilingual School (TPBS) and explored the relationships between mediating variables, including TPBS’ program, teacher and learner characteristics, and the process of teaching and learning English within the TPBS immersion program from both teachers’ and students’ perspectives. This study was guided by Lapkin, Swain and Shapson’s (1990) and Genesee’s (2004) frameworks drawing from research on French immersion programs in Canada, as well as studies from the developing field of elite bilingual education in South America. Four types of data were gathered for this study: 1) student reflections, 2) student focus group interviews, 3) teacher focus group and individual interviews, and 4) classroom observations. The data were then analyzed inductively by assigning codes and establishing themes. Four themes emerged from the data: 1) teacher and student characteristics, 2) program characteristics, 3) classroom practice, and 4) use of Spanish and English, which were used to answer the research questions. To summarize the major findings, first, teachers were inexperienced and untrained which led to a sense of professional incompetence. Second, students were highly motivated to learn English, but lacked engagement in class. Third, the English program lacked clear goals which led to doubts regarding the current immersion model and uncertainty regarding student achievement. Finally, while instructional practices included some key elements of an immersion program, the approach was primarily teacher-centred and included little integration of content and language and limited opportunities for comprehensible input and extended output. This study is crucial because it addresses essential issues faced by TPBS and similar immersion schools in Honduras. It also contributes to an important research gap in the field of immersion education in Central America.
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