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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Raising Bilingual and Biliterate Heritage Speakers of Russian in a Monolingual Context: The Impact of Family and Supplementary Education Language Policies

  • Author(s): Ice, Anna
  • Advisor(s): McCarty, Teresa L
  • Vroon, Ronald W
  • et al.

Framed by Spolsky’s (2004) three-part model for language policy, this qualitative case study examines the ways in which supplementary education and family language policies assist in raising bilingual and biliterate speakers of Russian and English. It explores two domains of the children’s life: the contexts of family and a Russian Saturday School by investigating specific language beliefs, practices, and language management strategies at the Russian School and the families of five of its graduates as well as by providing a threefold perspective of parents, teachers and adolescents. Observations, interviews and surveys provide different types of data that helps us understand of how these different contexts impact the adolescents’ language development and their attitude towards their heritage language.

In line with previous research, this study confirms the leading role of parents in heritage language preservation. The main components of the parents’ language policy that supported bilingualism were (1) dedication to the home language and culture, (2) adherence to strict rules about when each language is used, and (3) support of Russian language development by providing additional opportunities to practice both receptive and reproductive skills in Russian. In the family context, language management was largely implemented through language practices and parental language use was one of the main tactics of such management.

The study demonstrates that the Russian School played an important role in the lives of these families not only as a place of supplementary education but also as a community builder where children socialized in the Russian culture in a pressure-free atmosphere. It played an important role in building a positive attitude towards the Russian language in adolescence.

The analysis also reveals a diminishing role of parents and teaching in affecting language choices and language practices of children in adolescence. At this stage, their choice to use Russian for personal activities was closely related to the opportunities to use the Russian language outside of the home and the Russian School, especially in communication with their peers.

This study has implications for the theory of family language policy, heritage language educators, program planners, and immigrant families interested in raising bilingual-biliterate children.

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