An Integrative Approach to Family Language Policy Experiences: The Case of French-English Bilingual Families in the UK

Wilson, Sonia (2019). An Integrative Approach to Family Language Policy Experiences: The Case of French-English Bilingual Families in the UK. PhD thesis The Open University.



The present mixed-method study examines the family language policies (FLP) of transnational French-English bilingual families in England. The research commences with a quantitative portion aimed at identifying existing parental beliefs and language management methods through an online survey (n=164). The findings revealed the strong presence of heteroglossic beliefs combined with more traditional monoglossic ideas about bilingualism. The survey results also highlighted significant incongruence between parents’ reported beliefs regarding the flexible nature of bilingualism and their support for a language separation strategy. The dynamic between ideologies, management and practices was essentially driven by the practical concern of increasing heritage language input rather than by ideology.

The second phase of the study was a qualitative investigation designed to obtain an emic perspective on how particular language policies were experienced by transnational families and their individual members. 6 of the 164 online respondents took part in case studies, together with their partners and school-age children. Drawing on a combination of interviews, language portraits and observations of family interactions, the findings revealed that language planning decisions were shaped not only by parents’ overt language ideologies but also by covert motivations closely linked to their level of attachment to their country of origin as well as their attitudes to the local culture. The results also demonstrated that FLP may have a profound impact on the experiences of all family members.

This study argues that in order for parents to embrace their heteroglossic beliefs and engage in flexible language practices, additional sources of heritage language input must be provided to multilingual families. Additionally, it is essential that researchers adopt a more integrative approach to FLP including young heritage speakers’ perspectives in order to understand the impact of parental language planning on children’s bilingual experiences.

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