Young people’s representations of language brokering

Cline, Tony; Crafter, Sarah; O'Dell, Lindsay and de Abreu, Guida (2011). Young people’s representations of language brokering. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 32(3) pp. 207–220.



In recently arrived immigrant families, children and young people often act as language brokers for their parents and other adults. In public and academic debate, this activity is sometimes portrayed negatively as imposing excessive burdens of responsibility on the young people. This paper reports an analysis of qualitative data from a broader study of young people's representations of conflicting roles in child development. Interview participants were monolingual and bilingual students, aged 15-18 years. Half of the latter had had personal experience of language brokering. The paper examines differences within this sample in their representations of a young person's involvement in language brokering. Monolingual students were not generally negative in their attitudes to bilingualism and language brokering, but many showed only a vague understanding of them and perceived them as unusual or 'strange'. Bilingual speakers, on the other hand, and in particular those with language brokering experience, saw these activities as 'normal' and often showed a richer and more subtle appreciation of what was involved. These differences illustrate ways in which personal experiences influenced individuals' representations of language brokering. Implications for an understanding of developmental scripts emphasising independence and interdependence between young people and their parents are discussed.

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