Extended family is a powerful language source for children

Do you know how extended family members influence children’s language repertoire?

Sometimes parents consider themselves to be the most influential agencies to children’s learning languages because they are always told about that by educators, psychologists and many other people. However, not many people understand that children’s communication with extended family members including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins appears to be crucial for their language practices in the society. This communication, as Baker (2011) states, prepares children for different outside community practices in various domains apart from home environment. Children’s language educational practices at school vary from those in playgrounds, entertainment places, shopping centers and family or community events where they make a particular language choice, in most cases in favour of a dominant language. Family members’ understanding and support of this issue help to develop children’s confidence in their language repertoires and communication skills in the society.  The mismatch between parents and extended family views on children’s language practices results in children’s emotional stress about their own language proficiency, diminishes their communication with entire families and/or limits their social interaction.    

The difference between grandparents and parents’ views on children’s language practices is usually about mother-tongue practices in multilingual and multicultural societies. Grandparents tend to preserve mother-tongue practices and develop grandchildren’s ethnic identity by encouraging them not to mix languages in communication (Lotherington & Eamer, 2008). Elderly generation strongly assumes that fostering children’s mother-tongue practices and national identity will help to transfer linguistic and cultural heritage to future generations. However, current youth may resist these ideologies because they try to adapt to the society by communicating in languages their peers speak. The solution for this problem may be extended family involvement in school and community activities in which children’s multilingual practices are clearly observed. Thus, the whole family might change their attitudes and understand how to develop children’s language practices without generating an additional pressure to children who try to adjust to the society.

The research on Chinese family members engagement in their children’s language education in Canada has revealed that grandparents’ frequency of meeting their grandchildren directly influenced their attitudes to children’s multilingual practices of Chinese, Cantonese and English (Taylor, Bernhard, Garg, & Cummins, 2008). Grandparents who live with their children and help to raise their grandchildren communicate only in Chinese, but can understand English. On the contrary, grandparents who live separately from their children and rarely meet grandchildren appear to speak only Cantonese. Taylor et al. highlight the importance of extended family involvement and understanding of children’s multilingual and multicultural practices which develops “transnational and transgenerational webs of kinship, and cultural and faith-based communities of practice” and promotes children’s initiation in “shared ways of knowing, remembering and imagining vital to the multiple affiliations and semiotic economies through which their identities are constituted” (p. 289). Hence, language practices and ideologies, that extended family use, straightly effects to children’s development of language repertoires and identities which consequently easens or hardens their adaptation in multilingual and multicultural society.  

Do you have any personal experiences or observations of how extended family members influence children’s language repertoire?

References

Baker, C. (2011). Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Fifth edition (Eds.). Bristol, UK; Multilingual Matters.

Lotherington, H., & Eamer, A. (2008). Successful Kids from Immigrant Families: An Investigation of the Complex Multilingual Worlds of 10-Year-Old Gifted Writers in Suburban Toronto. International Journal of Multilingualism, 5(2), 100-121. doi:10.1080/14790710802152297

Taylor, L. K., Bernhard, J. K., Garg, S., & Cummins, J. (2008). Affirming plural belonging: Building on students’ family-based cultural and linguistic capital through multiliteracies pedagogy. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 8(3), 269-294. doi.org/10.1177/1468798408096481

Photo credit: http://www.nanahood.com   

9 thoughts on “Extended family is a powerful language source for children

  1. Dear @asselt I am strongly agree with you that children should socialize starting from their home, family and family members. In addition, I would like to say that the importance of communication with relatives is not only important for child’s language competence, but for constructing his/her identity and adsorbing cultural values it also plays a crustal role. Thank you for rising such a good issue from your perspectives) I hope the next generation despite the latinization of Kazakh language, will transmit Kazakh as the heritage language. I guess we will do as much effort as it is necessary for helping to them.

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    1. Assema, thanks for sharing your opinion. I see your point in supporting and preserving linguistic and cultural heritage in families through generations. And, I do agree that parents (and grandparents) are agents who transmit this knowledge to children, even though the process of transmission usually appears challenging for immigrant children in a multilingual society because different languages and cultures are continuous dialogue and immersion.

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  2. Dear Assel, thank you for raising this topic. It is very interesting to know that the perspectives of parents and grandparents concerning a child’s languages use may differ. More interestingly, I know the case of one family where the perspectives of parents regarding their children’s language repertoire differ. It is a multilingual family where a father is ethnic Kazakh and a mother is ethnic Japanese, and their children speak fluent Kazakh and basic Russian, Japanese and English. The father wants their children to speak fluent Japanese and Russian as well as Kazakh, but the mother thinks that there is no need for their children to acquire Japanese from the childhood.

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    1. Gulnar, thank you for sharing this. Have you ever asked why their mother does not appreciate children’s learning Japanese? Is it because Japanese is rarely spoken in Kazakhstan or she does not see any future perspectives connected with this language?
      And, it would be more significant to know grandparents’ position in this respect.

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      1. Assel, yes, we talked about the reasons. I found it interesting, but the mother said Japanese is not common language in our country, so children do not have opportunities to practice this language. She said probably in the future their children would learn Japanese by themselves.

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  3. I think, @asselt that the answer to the question, posed at beginning, is obviously “yes”, as children’ first linguistic experience starts at home. You introduce your post stating that adults realize their important role, as language agents, because this ideology is imposed to them; and then, you argue that “the mismatch” between parents’ views and their kids’ linguistic practices cause psychological pressure on children. Is this misunderstanding a result of policies influencing language practices or/and parents’ and children’s resistance to certain language policies? Alternatively, is this a natural phenomenon existing in any society?

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    1. Aigulizat, thank you for the interest and questions you’ve raised here. The blogpost aimed to look at grandparents’ perspectives in children’s learning languages in a multilingual society. And, the mismatch usually takes place between parents who support multilingual policy and granparents who resist it. That is why grandparents who frequently take care of their grandchildren tend to influence by providing their own language ideologies which do not coincide with parents’ views and multilingual society norms in the whole. That is why minority children experience discomfort or other drawbacks while adapting to new society. This phenomenon is quite ubiquitous for families of ethnic minorities in multilingual societies all around the world.

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