Perceived and actual linguistic competence: A descriptive study of four low–achieving Hispanic bilingual students

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1989


This ethnographic study investigated the linguistic performance of four Hispanic bilingual students perceived to have limited language abilities in Spanish and English. The study provided data on the students' language use and abilities, in both languages, in a variety of school and nonschool settings. Data were analyzed qualitatively for evidence of students' linguistic, discourse, and narrative competencies. Performance was compared across settings and across languages for each student, as well as across students. All students displayed different strengths across settings in both languages. The data indicated that the organization of instruction limited the students' abilities to demonstrate their full range of competence in the two languages, and that their lack of English structural proficiency and lack of vocabulary in Spanish was interpreted by teachers as a lack of conceptual ability. Observed over a variety of contexts, however, students showed the ability to use language as a vehicle for effective self-expression both socially and cognitively.