Home language maintenance and development among first generation migrant children in an Irish primary school: An investigation of attitudes

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Connaughton-Crean, Lorraine
Ó Duibhir, Pádraig

This qualitative study was undertaken against the backdrop of rapidly increasing levels of immigration to Ireland and a subsequent growing increase in the percentage of children attending Irish primary schools with a first language other than English or Irish, the two official languages of the country. The research investigates the attitudes of a group of first generation minority language children, of various ethnic backgrounds, to home language maintenance and development as well as their experiences of home language use both in school and in the family home. Data were collected from 17 minority language children, aged between 10 and 13 years and living in Ireland for a period of between three and seven years. Data collection methods included focus group interviews and semi-structured individual interviews, during which participants expressed beliefs, opinions and attitudes surrounding language practices. Interviews conducted with four parents of the child participants provided additional data. In addition, an interview with the teacher of a complementary language school for Polish children highlighted the efforts made by the Polish community; the largest non-Irish group in Ireland, to promote home language maintenance in the family. The data show that while the majority of children and parents display positive attitudes to home language maintenance and development, children face challenges in continuing to develop the literacy skills in the home language. The importance of maintaining and continuing to develop the home language for continued communication with extended family members is clear. The need for familial support in relation to the opportunities children have to engage in home language learning is evident. The perceptions of English as a global language and as a valuable asset were evident among both children and parents. There is no provision made for the formal learning of home languages to children in Ireland, and the only opportunity for children to do so is limited to privately run complementary schools, which are not always accessible to all nationalities. Concerns of children and parents regarding continued development in the home language are voiced, and in most cases, these concerns are borne out of a possible return to their native countries.

home language maintenance, first generation, minority language, majority language, language attitudes, family domain.
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