In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Does Language Background Have an Effect on the Development of Psychological Well-Being During College?
  • Jiajun Liu (bio) and Ernest T. Pascarella (bio)

According to the 2017 American Community Survey, more than 1 in 5 US residents speak a language other than English at home, and many are nonnative-English speakers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). Among this fast-growing population, nonnative-English-speaking (NNES) college students are significantly underserved and under-researched (Kanno & Cromley, 2013). NNES students are largely Students of Color; they are a diverse group that include immigrants, those born and raised in the US who learn English as a second language, and international students from non-English-speaking countries (Curry, 2004). Since language is the defining characteristic, existing research on this population at the college level has largely focused on vocabulary development, literacy skills, and the effectiveness of English remedial courses (Kanno & Cromley, 2013; Liu, Hu, & Pascarella, 2019).

Authors of a small but increasing number of studies have examined nonlinguistic outcomes and have suggested that merely improving language skills is not sufficient to achieve college success (Kanno & Cromley, 2013; Leki, 2001; Liu et al., 2019). One issue that has caused concern that the literature has yet to address is the development of NNES students' psychological well-being (PWB) during college. PWB is not restricted to medical descriptions or merely about happiness and positive emotions. It is multidimensional and engages different aspects of life and wellbeing, such as building positive relations with others and adapting to the environment (Ryff, 1989). PWB is important because students cannot be entirely engaged in college without psychological involvement (Astin, 1999). Due to their language background and immigration status, PWB is particularly concerning for NNES students, because these students tend to encounter challenges and stress from acculturation, family separation, isolation in school, and issues related to visas and immigration (Pratt-Johnson, 2015). We attempted to answer the research question: [End Page 648] Does being a nonnative-English-speaking student have an effect on the development of psychological well-being during college?


Time at university can be anxiety-provoking. From the time students enter college, their psychological distress and anxiety will not recede to precollege levels (Mayhew, Rockenbach, Bowman, Seifert, & Wolniak, 2016). Prior research delivers a clear message that psychological factors are critically associated with college students' GPA, involvement of college activity, and life satisfaction (Krumrei-Mancuso, Newton, Kim, & Wilcox, 2013; Mayhew et al., 2016). Students with higher PWB levels are associated with short-term and long-term positive outcomes: while in the short term students tend to persist and graduate, in the long term students are likely to develop a successful professional and personal life (Bowman, 2010).

Certain precollege characteristics, such as gender and race, have been frequently studied with findings indicating that being a female is positively associated with PWB development during the first year of college (Bowman, 2010). Yet Students of Color tend to experience lower PWB levels due to cultural differences and persistent discrimination (Harrell, 2000; Iwamoto & Liu, 2011). In their study on Asian Americans and Asian international students, Iwamoto and Liu (2011) found that differences in cultural values could contribute to acculturation stress and hence lower PWB levels. Gloria, Castellanos, and Orozco (2005) found that Latina students who reported using coping strategies such as talking with others had higher PWB levels.

To date, no scholars have directly examined NNES students' PWB development during college. The most relevant research we could find is a qualitative study of the influence of language difficulty on international students' well-being, which suggests that not being able to communicate effectively could increase cultural stress and passive emotions and therefore lead to low PWB levels (Gatwiri, 2015). Other studies have highlighted the challenges faced by NNES college students. Leki (2001) found that NNES college students had negative experiences working on group projects because their voices were least powerful and their contributions were not considered meaningful to the group by their peers, situations that were barely noticed by the instructors. Kanno and Cromley (2013) revealed that only 1 in 8 English-language learners would earn a bachelor's degree or higher compared to 1 in 3 or 4 of their peers. More recently...


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