By Nguyen Thao Nguyen
“Mother tongues and cultures play an important role in forming students’ identity, which helps them know who they are and understand their historical roots and cultural continuity”. To know more about benefits of maintaining mother tongues, you can read our previous part here. However, it is always challenging for immigrant families living abroad to maintain mother tongue for their children.
1. Lack of a supportive environment from families
A hobby club day for kids at BiziVietnam
The biggest challenge originates from parents’ perspectives. Normally, immigrant parents are aware of the significance of host-country languages for employment, living improvement, and social ladder. Because of this societal message, they sanction the use of host-country languages exclusively by their children at home as well as choose to speak the languages with their children.
Consequently, being conveyed the hegemony of host languages by parents makes children undervalue their home languages. Additionally, the absence of any strong parental commitment to maintaining mother tongues detaches the desire of learning from children.
2. Lack of a supportive environment from schools and society
Most of the developed countries like the USA, Australia, Europe, and so on have become multicultural because of the growing numbers of immigrants, refugees, and temporary workers. Although recently, authorities and governments have started to apply more policies that support mother tongue maintenance, at school or in surroundings, children do not have many chances to practice their mother tongues. Indeed, their teachers and friends do not speak their home languages and every single place around them uses host-country languages only. As a result, the motivation for children to be fluent in their mother tongues is lost. Besides their family members can communicate by host-country languages, therefore, children do not have any reason to use their home languages in their daily life.
3. Difficulties in teaching mother tongues at schools
A kid hobby club of BiziVietnam
Although in host countries, there are classes organized to maintain mother tongues for immigrant children, there is an insufficient amount of time as well as the lack of adequate organizations.
For mother tongue teachers, it is difficult to find teaching materials available, thus, the contents of their lessons are limited and not practical for students. Moreover, that immigrant students are in different stages in one class makes teaching their mother tongues not as effective as expected. The lack of specific events for home languages and the support from school and native teachers also hinder the learning effectiveness for immigrant students.
4. Misconceptions regarding bilingualism
Currently, there are still misunderstandings regarding bilingualism which hinder the maintenance of mother tongues. For example, many people are convinced that exposing children to two or more languages will cause confusion and retard their learning progress. On the contrary, through the stage of infancy, children can distinguish languages they hear, and then, from the age of four or five, their development of metalinguistic awareness starts. Thus, frequent exposure to two languages from birth is the easiest path to bilingual success for children.
One of the most widespread misconceptions about bilingualism is related to language mixing. When hearing their children mixing both languages in one sentence, parents tend to think that their children get language confusion. However, language mixing is a natural and normal evolution. Indeed, when children do not know a word in one language, their brain provides the word in the other language. This mixing will disappear when children’s vocabulary in both languages is increased.
Bilingual kids – Image source: A kid club at BiziVietnam
Another common misunderstanding is about fluency in two languages. Many people define a “proper” bilingual as a perfect proficiency in both languages. However, according to several studies, it is untrue since bilingualism comes in different shapes and sizes. It means some bilinguals understand both languages yet speak only one, or some know more words in one than in the other.
Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that “two languages are rarely acquired in the same circumstances”. The last misconception is that children cannot become fluent bilingual after childhood. Children should indeed have a chance to approach both languages at the early stages, however, it is never too late to learn a new language and at different groups of ages, we have our own ways to go through that.
Bouko, C., Carton, J., Limacher-Riebold, U., O’Malley, M.-P., & Rosenback, R. (n.d.). Practical guide for parents with ready-to-use activities. 128.
Brown, C. L. (2011). Maintaining heritage language: Perspectives of Korean parents. Multicultural Education, 19(1), 31-37.
Nguyen, T. M. P., & Lê, Q. (n.d.). AN INVESTIGATION OF INDIVIDUAL NETWORKS OF LINGUISTIC CONTACT AMONG VIETNAMESE ORIGIN CHILDREN IN AUSTRALIA. 12.
Vallance, A. L. (n.d.). The Importance of Maintaining a Heritage Language while Acquiring the Host Language. 42.
Following what was mentioned above, to maintain mother tongues is not easy for immigrant families. However, there are ways parents can apply to contribute to the preservation of mother tongues. Which ways are being implemented in your families? The next blog of BiziVietnam will discuss this issue in depth.
To contribute to the mother tongue maintenance for Vietnamese kids in Finland, BiziVietnam organizes Vietnamese language classes and extracurricular on weekends.
The variety of contents and learning activities on Saturday will support children to practice Vietnamese with teachers as well as their peers.
On Sunday, there are different extracurricular activities such as art, singing, playing games, speaking which are expected to generate an entertaining and connective space in which family members will be closer to each other as well as have opportunities to approach Vietnamese values.
Every month, we send an exclusive material named “Tieng Viet Vui” – a Vietnamese Bulletin to families and kids to read and learn about Vietnamese language and culture together.
Becoming a member of BiziVietnam, each family will receive different discounts from our partners. Join us to maintain language and culture for your children.
BiziVietnam is the first ever non-profit organisation in Finland dedicated to empowering cultural connections and strengthening the Vietnamese cultural footprint in locals, internationals and Vietnamese people in Finland; along with promoting cooperation opportunities between Finland and Vietnam. Follow us on Social Media for the latest news and upcoming events.