Public University Students’ Perceptions of the Connection between Education, Wealth and English in Puerto Rico

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Public University Students’ Perceptions of the Connection between Education, Wealth and English in Puerto Rico

Type: Master thesis
Title: Public University Students’ Perceptions of the Connection between Education, Wealth and English in Puerto Rico
Author: Vries, Alissia de
Issue Date: 2018-03-30
Keywords: Code-switching
Education
Elite
English
Language attitudes
Puerto Rico
Spanish
Abstract: Despite the fact that English became the second official language of Puerto Rico in 1902 (Muñiz Argüelles, 1989), the English language is still not widely spoken in Puerto Rico. In fact, according to the most recent data, 78.1% of the population claims to speak English less than very well (U.S. Census, 2016). Prior research has demonstrated that there is a connection between education, wealth and English in Puerto Rico. English has the reputation of being the language of the Puerto Rican elite (i.a. Pérez Casas, 2016; Torruellas, 1990). This is due to the high costs of private primary and secondary education and not easily accessible English language resources such as a network of English speaking friends, high speed internet and cable television (i.a. Pousada, 2000; Urciuoli, 2013). This current study builds on Bischoff (2017), who argues that the English language requirements at public universities are a barrier to economically disadvantaged students. As a result, one’s economical and educational background can serve as either a privilege or a misfortune in one’s professional aspirations as well (i.a. Barreto, 2000; Schweers and Hudders, 2000). The aim of this study was to gain insight into public university students’ perceptions of the connection between education, wealth and English in Puerto Rico. Data to address this was collected through the distribution of an online questionnaire and carrying out in-depth interviews with students from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez (UPRM) and the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras (UPRRP). In total, 119 questionnaire responses followed by in-depth interviews with 12 UPRM students were used for analysis. The results showed that, contrary to prior research (i.a. Bischoff, 2017; Pérez Casas, 2016; Pousada, 2000), public university students deny or do not recognize a connection between wealth, education and English in Puerto Rico. Instead, they view English language acquisition as a matter of putting in effort in learning and practicing instead of wealth. Furthermore, English language skills are perceived as necessary tools for professional successes and feeling like a global citizen. Puerto Ricans who lack English skills are perceived as unmotivated, missing out on life and not wanting to feel connected to the US Mainland. Nonetheless, it appeared that the majority of public university students have attended private primary and/or secondary schools, have access to English resources and grow up in a social environment filled with English speakers. In other words, public universities serve increasingly wealthy Puerto Ricans who seem unaware of their privileges, whereas economically disadvantaged Puerto Ricans are blamed for their lack of English skills and presumably experience a misfortune while aiming to reach their academic and professional goals. Studying the perceptions of private university students in Puerto Rico in further research would create the opportunity to compare the perceptions of the current studied Puerto Rican elite students versus those of the presumably economically disadvantaged private university students.
Supervisor: Parafita Couto, Dr. Maria del Carmen
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: Latin American Studies (Master)
Specialisation: Language Variation and Bilingualism
ECTS Credits: 20
Handle: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/61083
 

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