Preserving immigrant languages

I found an interesting article on the BBC News website about Asian languages in the UK which discusses how some UK families of South Asian origin are trying to encourage their children to continue speaking their native languages, such as Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati. The children are taught in English at school, but some also attend complementary and weekend schools run by local communities where they are taught in their native languages. Such schools are run by volunteers and receive no government funding, and are helping to maintain bilingualism among their pupils, and perhaps because of this, those pupils are also achieving good results in their mainstream schools.

It seems to be common among immigrant families that native languages last only two or three generations, unless community efforts are made to maintain their languages. The situation can be similar for minority languages such as Maori and Irish. Another article I came across today is not very hopeful about the future of the Maori language and predicts it will die out in 50 years or so. In spite of initiatives to promote the language, the young generation is increasingly turning to English, even those who attend the Maori-medium schools. In the schools they speak Maori, but elsewhere many speak only English.

7 thoughts on “Preserving immigrant languages

  1. In Norway, a lot of schools offer mother-tongue education in various languages; the evidence just shows that this helps students get better in _both_ languages, they get better grades, etc. so there’s really no reason not to do it.

  2. Interesting article. I imagine transmission/preservation rates are even lower among West African immigrants/their children (perhaps because parents were educated in English in their country of origin) but higher among Chinese immigrants. This is purely my own observation though (from what I’ve experienced in London) and no doubt others will have different views.

  3. In our school division, in Canada, we offer heritage language after-school programs in a multitude of languages – Punjabi, Tagalog, Russian, Polish, Urdu…pretty much whatever the community asks for, if an instructor is available. Students are bussed to the site after school on school buses, and there is no charge. Additionally, there is an in-school Hebrew language and Ukrainian language program – not immersion per se, but instruction in both English and Hebrew or Ukrainian. The Hebrew program currently goes to grade 8, and the Ukrainian to grade 12.

  4. A lot of time church parishes which cater to one immigrant or ethnic group will have Saturday classes in that language (ex. Greek, Croatian). I think this is an important more for community cohesion than language education. Many people I know who attended these schools have only basic knowledge of that language unless their families made an effort to speak it at home.

  5. I personally think preservation of non-native immigrant languages should not be a priority and should not have public money spent on, this should be a private endevour.

    If you start encouraging immigrant groups to keep speaking their native or ancestorial languages this can result in an decrease in social cohesion and separate groups isolating themselves from each other and only mixing with their own nationality.

    This is the opposite of what a multicultural country should strive for, and I think all efforts should be made to get immigrants speaking the language of their adopted country WELL, rather than trying to get them to keep speaking their native language at all costs. It’s counter-productive and just stupid. If they wanted to speak their native language so much they’d go home.

  6. If we consider the fact that a bilingual and bi-cultural person has a better developed brain than a monolingual person, is more open-minded and has a broader vision of the world, as well as the fact that such people may potentially contribute to the strengthening of ties between English-speaking countries and the rest of the world and, consequently, to world peace I think it’s in everyone’s interest to promote bilingualism. (Sorry, long sentence…)

  7. I don’t see how it makes sense to focus on the majority language so much that the minority language is nearly lost and then require that the child learn a second language later on in school. There are some – not enough – excellent schools here in the USA that promote both languages and invite second+ generation students to learn both languages along with the first generation kids. The world is getting smaller and flatter and monolingulism is going to become an increasingly expensive luxury.

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