Schlagwort-Archive: parents

Positive effects of heritage language classes on linguistic confidence and ethnic identity

Heritage languages form not only a part of their speakers’ linguistic repertoire, but also represent an important element of their cultural and ethnic identity. Yet heritage language speakers are by no means a homogeneous group: They come from diverse backgrounds and they differ in their degree of competence in the heritage language with many never reaching their parents’ or grandparents’ level of fluency. These issues are critical within the field of heritage language research, as a solid linguistic confidence promotes language maintenance and supports the speakers in feeling comfortable within their ethnic community.

Ana Sánchez-Muñoz examined a group of 50 university students, mostly second generation Mexican Americans/Chicanos, who took Spanish heritage language classes in the USA. The courses were specifically designed to meet the needs of heritage language speakers. Unlike second or foreign language classes, in which heritage language speakers often struggle with issues of confidence, these classes include topics such as the complex relationship between language and socio-political structures and identity formation. Sánchez-Muñoz wanted to find out whether the classes had a positive effect on the students’ perception of themselves as Latino Spanish speakers. Two questionnaires (one at the beginning of the academic year and the other at the end) were administered, and interviews were conducted.

At the beginning of the year, there is a close match between students’ perceived language ability and confidence. They appear to find production in the heritage language (speaking and writing) much more challenging than receptive skills (listening and reading). At the end of the year, all students show an increase in both linguistic ability and overall confidence. The clearest improvement can be seen in writing. The students themselves indicate that writing is the main motivation for taking the classes, as they have been least able to develop this skill without formal education in their heritage language.

Speakers expressed shame around the perceived lower status of the heritage language, as well as fear of being mocked by others or of being rejected by their ethnic community due to their lack of linguistic ability. The interviews also indicated, however, a sort of ‘linguistic healing’ following the heritage language courses. Students feel more proficient in Spanish and more prepared to use it in different contexts as they were helped to overcome feelings of shame and inadequacy. Sánchez-Muñoz thereby shows that programs designed for heritage language speakers can have an important impact on language maintenance and on developing a healthy linguistic and ethnic identity.

Sara Romano

Sánchez-Muñoz, A. (2016). Heritage language healing? Learners’ attitudes and damage control in heritage language classroom. In Pascual y Cabo, D. (Ed.), Advances in Spanish as a Heritage Language (Studies in Bilingualism 49), 205-218.

When migrant children return to their country of birth – Is there a cut-off point for language?

Young children who move abroad are generally quick to learn the new language. But what if their parents decide to return home after living in the second language environment for many years?

Flores investigated the role of age for maintaining the second language when migrants return to their country of birth. The study traces the German-language development of Ana, a nine-year old girl, who returned to Portugal after living in Germany for seven years. Having attended kindergarten and school in Germany, Ana was dominant in German when she first arrived in Portugal, and German was the language she used to communicate with her older brother.

Three months after arriving in Portugal, Ana’s use of German had ceased almost completely. Five months after her arrival, Ana was still able to converse in German but sometimes had trouble remembering German words and correctly using certain aspects of German grammar. After 18 months, conversation had become too difficult but she was still able to complete some written tasks.

In contrast, Flores has also been able to show that children who remained in Germany until they were teenagers maintained a good level of German fluency when they returned to Portugal. This seems to suggest a type of cut-off point at which a second language becomes stabilized in the mind and is immune to the effects of language loss. When exposure to a second language ceases before this point, as was the case with Ana, more effort is required to maintain it.

Importantly, Flores points out that Ana did not actually “lose” her German. Instead, she had trouble activating her knowledge of the language as she was not exposed to it. This was not such a problem for her peers who had lived in Germany until they were teenagers.

What we can take from this study is the importance of maintaining exposure to a child’s second language, particularly if they are below puberty age when they leave the second language environment.

Anika Lloyd-Smith

Flores, C. (2015). Losing a language in childhood: a longitudinal case study on language attrition. In: Journal of child language, 42:3, 562–590.

Fostering active trilingualism in early childhood

Parents who bring up their children with three languages are often faced with many questions, especially when they hope that their children will be able to use all those languages actively. Although family situations are often similar at first glance, some children exposed to three languages from birth become active trilinguals while others do not. Chevalier’s case studies shed some light on the correlations between contextual factors and levels of active trilingualism. She examined the language development of two children from the ages of two to four, who have been exposed to Swiss German, French and English from infancy. Elliot lives in French-speaking Switzerland and Lina lives in the German-speaking part. The parents in both families speak English to each other and their respective native language to the child. Chevalier interviewed the parents and made recordings of interactions with the children. By the end of the study, Elliot had attained high levels of active trilingualism whereas Lina was not able to use all three languages actively. So the question arises: How can these differences be explained?

In her comparison of the two families Chevalier reveals that Elliot benefitted from his parents’ consistent and exclusive use of the minority languages (English and German) and from his father’s conversational style that included instructions to translate and repeat. The father also rephrased sentences in German when Elliot mixed languages. Although he had the least input in German, Elliot spoke fluent Swiss German with his father. Moreover, his home languages were supported by various people (e.g. relatives).

Lina, on the other hand, had very unbalanced input. German represented the dominant language inside and outside the home. She did not have a variety of contacts in her minority languages apart from those with her English-speaking aunt. Furthermore, her father was the least consistent in speaking his native language and did not insist on her speaking French. Yet one finding deserves particular attention: Lina spoke considerably more, as well as more proficient, English than French despite having fewer interactions in English. Chevalier attributes this to the intensive and instructional conversation style of her English-speaking aunt, comparable to that of Elliot’s father.

In sum, active promotion of minority languages and reducing space for the majority language can foster high levels of active trilingualism in early childhood. However, research in this field is still rather scarce and with an alteration of input factors in later childhood language development might change.

Sara Romano

Chevalier, S. (2015). Trilingual Language Acquisition. Contextual Factors Influencing Active Trilingualism in Early Childhood. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.