Family involvement in preschoolers' bilingual heritage language development: a cultural-historical study of Chinese-Australian families' everyday practices

2017-02-17T01:49:03Z (GMT) by Li, Liang
In Australia many Chinese families send their preschool-aged children to learn Mandarin at weekend Chinese schools in the expectation that their children master Mandarin as a heritage language in the predominantly English-speaking community. Family involvement in bilingual development may be considered as an important factor in acquiring Mandarin (Esch-Harding & Riley, 2003; McCollum & Russo, 1993). Immigrant parents face the challenge of contributing to their children’s heritage language development in the home context. Research on bilingual and multilingual development has increased considerably in the past 20 years. Much work has been done on the linguistic perspectives of children’s bilingual development, the majority of which has focused on bilingual language development in school and after-school class contexts (Kohnert, Kan, & Conboy, 2010; Laurent & Martinot, 2009; Nicoladis, 2006; Seidenberg & McClelland, 1989; Wang, Perfetti & Cheng, 2009; Wang, Perfetti & Liu, 2005). However, very few studies focus on how the family as a social unit supports their children bilingually, especially for children's heritage language development (Esch-Harding & Riley, 2003). This thesis draws upon Vyogtsky’s cultural-historical theories to explore how Chinese-Australian immigrant families support their preschoolers’ bilingual heritage language development in their everyday family practice. The study looks closely at parent-child interactions to identify how they support children’s bilingual heritage language development in everyday home contexts. Three Chinese-Australian immigrant families who at the time of the research each had a four to five-year-old child born in Melbourne participated in the study. Data were generated over a period of 9 months through videoed interview, photographs and video observations taken by the participants and the researcher. The research began with an interview with the researched families using photos and video clips the families took within the first two weeks of the field work, in order to determine the families’ values and beliefs regarding their children’s bilingual heritage language development. The video observation, as a second step of data generation, helped to capture typical everyday family activities within the home context and children’s performance in the Chinese classroom. In order to develop a good understanding of the historically-located family practices in the everyday home context, the second videoed interviews were arranged after video observation and referred to recorded interactions. The analysis of the data has been approached in four spirals, from common-sense interpretation, situated practice interpretation, thematic interpretation to synthetic analysis of family practices (Hedegaard, 2008b). This spiraled process of interpretation is not linear, but is dialectical in essence, conceptualized as a continuing upward spiral of progress, which helps the researcher investigate the communication and interplay between child and parents within their everyday family life step-by-step, deeper and deeper. This thesis investigates parent-child interactions in role-play in the three research families, as well as their household activities and book reading practices in order to determine the pedagogical strategies parents use in terms of cultural-historical theory. The research presents the dynamic transformation process of children’s bilingual heritage language development within children’s everyday family practices. Furthermore, it argues that family play activities are an important mediating tool to achieve positive transformation dynamics in children’s development. The central finding of this research indicates that effective parent-child interactions are key to the achievement of the positive development of children’s bilingual heritage language. In this study, the findings offer new insights into how parents can contribute to children’s everyday practices through pedagogical strategies. The family pedagogical principle put forward as a result of the findings is that “two-way” engagement within children’s zone of proximal development is an important factor in language development. “Two-way” engagement takes into account both parents’ demands and children’s motives when they interact with each other within everyday family practices showing a shared meaning of the words and activities. The “Two-way” engagement principle offers five strategies for parents to deal in an effective way with the conflicts between their demands and children’s self-awareness, and between their understanding of children’s capacity and children’s motives. The findings regarding family pedagogical strategies can also be extended to apply to communication and engagement between teachers and children in general school settings. The recommendations to assist parents in supporting their children’s heritage language development can be extended for use in school contexts, especially in play activity.