ERG SES G 03, Children and Education
In today’s globalised world children are catapulted into diverse language contact situations from a young age. They have mother tongues and learn foreign languages; they speak heritage languages at home while picking up an additional language at school; they start learning English in primary or even pre-primary settings. Despite the unsystematic approach to foreign and second language education and bilingual education policies across Europe (Language Rich Europe, 2012), and the focus on socialisation via one national language in some societies, parents are convinced that an early start is beneficial and seek opportunities to expose their children to their other languages in out-of-school activities. Research has shown that these multilingual experiences develop children’s linguistic skills, raise intercultural awareness and increase intellectual flexibility (Bialystok, 2001), but how do they impact on children’s developing sense of self, their understanding of their place in the world, their language identities?
This paper shares the results of a study, which investigates how children appropriate and display their multilingual identities across multiple educational contexts: an out-of-school English literacy course, their mainstream French classroom, and a heritage language programme. The study includes 13 children, ranging from ages 5 to 17, all of whom present a bilingual French-English profile, with a third, heritage language (Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean, Sinhalese, Bangla, Russian, and Persian), crucial for maintaining a cultural/linguistic bond with their families, within and across national borders. The study explores the importance of these linguistic spaces in sowing the seeds for a solid linguistic and literate identity, thus creating these multilingual, multi-literate citizens of the future.
This study takes on a sociolinguistic perspective, as its fundamental concern is language use and languages in contact in educational contexts (Baker, 2008). Children’s access to the different linguistic worlds and academic contexts, via the agency of their parents, teachers and other significant adults and peers, affects their perceptions of identity, and their construction of the self. Hence, my research questions:
- How do children in multilingual, multi-educational and multi-literate contexts apprehend and negotiate their multiple identities across educational and / or linguistic contexts?
- What roles do the children’s family and educators play in nurturing the children’s multiple literacies and identities?
The qualitative case study is underpinned by a social constructionist position in understanding the nature of reality. This perspective stresses the active role of individuals in giving meaning to social phenomena, which they create in interaction with each other and across different social and cultural realities. Potter (1996) in Bryman (2004, p.18) writes: “The world … is constituted in one way or another as people talk it, write it and ague it.” In this case, children talk it, draw it and connect with symbolic objects in exploring their perceptions of their multilingual world, their diverse educational contexts and their emerging triliteracy: this constitute the basis for exploring their self-representations and choice of identity positionings. This study views ‘identity options as constructed, validated and offered through discourses available to individuals at a particular point in time and place’ (Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004, p. 14). From this perspective, identity is a multifaceted and interactive process, which is negotiated through language and alternative means of communication, which are relevant to, and exist in the child’s world.
This study draws on a sociocultural perspective (Street, 1984; Vygotsky, 1978;) in examining children’s access to ‘pluriliteracy practises’ (Garcia, Bartlett, & Kleifgen, 2007). Pluriliteracies not only include different cultural contexts and social structures but are also integrated with multimodal practises, that is, ‘written-linguistic modes of meaning are intricately bound up with other visual, audio and spatial semiotic systems’ (Garcia, 2009a, p. 339).
Baker, C. (1996) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd. Bialystok, E. (2001) Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy, and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Clark, A. (2004) The Mosaic Approach and Research with Young Children. In Lewis et al, (eds.) The Reality of Research with Children and Young People. London: Sage Publications Ltd. Clark, A and Moss, P. (2011) Listening to Young Children: The Mosaic Approach. 2nd ed. London: NCB. Extra, G. and Yagmur, K. (2012) Language Rich Europe: Trends in Policies and Practices for Multilingualism in Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (on behalf of the British Council) García, O. (2009) ‘Education, multilingualism and translanguaging in the 21st century’, in A. Mohanty, M. Panda, R. Phillipson and T. Skutnabb-Kangas (eds) Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan. García, O. (2009) Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. Pavlenko, A. and Blackledge, A. (2004) Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Street, B. (1984) Literacy in Theory and Practise, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
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