There are now over 200 languages aside from English and Irish that are spoken in homes in Ireland, highlighting the multilingualism in Early Years services and primary school classrooms (DES, 2019).
Maintaining a Heritage Language
Over the past two years, I have been conducting research for my PhD, which looks at heritage languages in the Irish primary school context. This so far has included focus groups with primary school teachers and asking them to complete a questionnaire. The results showed that teachers value bilingualism and heritage language maintenance and see the benefits for children however due to various barriers such as overloaded curriculum, time, lack of knowledge and training in the area they struggle with implementing it into their practice.
The findings also revealed that at times children and their parents could be barriers in relation to heritage language maintenance. Some parents just want their children to speak English and place less emphasis on the heritage language. Teachers mentioned that this may be due to a lack of knowledge in the area and also living in Ireland seeing the value of English here or parents just wanting their children to speak English.
Another result was that children see the heritage language to be spoken at home and English to be spoken at school and maybe do not think that both languages can be used at home and in school. The participants discussed how parents may also stop or use the heritage language less with their children and speak to their children with broken English, which in turn is leading to the children losing their heritage language but also not getting the best exposure to English.
If you would like to find out more of the results or information on the study, please feel free to contact me using the details below.
Tips on Helping Children Maintain their Heritage Language
- Educators and parents should communicate with each other in relation to bilingualism, heritage language maintenance. The more educated we are on the topic the more we can help children maintain their heritage language.
- Educators could encourage children and their families to continue speaking the heritage language at home, letting families and children see that their heritage language is valued as much as English. Children’s English will also better develop through the pre-school and primary school years from this.
- Educators could encourage parents to read books and stories in the heritage language to help develop children’s literacy skills. Perhaps coming into the setting to do a reading for the children. The pictures in the book will help to tell the story to children whose first language is English.
- Displaying words and phrases in English, and children’s heritage language in the setting or classroom will develop children’s language awareness and show the value of all the languages present.
- Showing appreciation, interest and curiosity with children about their heritage language can in turn lead to them having a positive attitude towards it
- Through the promotion of linguistic and cultural diversity in services and schools it can foster children’s’ growth and development. By seeing their language and culture positively displayed and nurtured, children will want to continue learning in these areas.
Here are some resources for parents, early childhood educators and primary school teachers to support children with heritage language maintenance:
PEaCH guide for educators how to support multilingual children: https://bilingualfamily.eu/resources-for-educators-and-peach-ambassadors/
Mother Tongues (videos, articles, podcasts etc.): https://mothertongues.ie/resources/
Primary Intercultural Guidelines: https://ppli.ie/news/primary-intercultural-guidelines/
Early Childhood Ireland webinars: Nurturing a culturally and linguistic responsive environment: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAlceuvrTsrE9Oz2VoHhoo2tcLzkQXBmrfb
Early Childhood Ireland Mother Tongues videos: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgmqrQzfvXlkB7cduSAkkp3d8TYss3_Wh
Department of Education and Skills (2019) Primary Language Curriculum [online] available at: https://www.curriculumonline.ie/Primary/Curriculum-Areas/Primary-Language/
Suzanne McCarthy holds a primary degree in Early Childhood Care and Education. She is currently undergoing a PhD at Technological University Dublin. Suzanne’s current research with Dr Bozena Dubiel is in the area of heritage languages in Irish primary schools: an investigation into teachers’ attitudes and pedagogical practice in the area of support for first language maintenance in bilingual pupils. Suzanne lectures in the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education at Maynooth University. Her interests include language education, heritage language maintenance, cultural and linguistic diversity.
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