When the home language is not the dominant language

If you are a multilingual, is your home language your most dominant language?

Something that surprises me when I read about language policies in schools and elsewhere is, that it is always assumed that people – children and adults – are most proficient, i.e. most fluent, in their home language. This might be correct for those who learned other languages later in life and were first schooled in their home language, but reality is very different for multilinguals who are schooled in other languages!

If you are a simultaneous bilingual and you have the chance to maintain those first languages at school (because the school teaches several subjects in both or all the languages!), all your languages might be more or less at the same level – usually one or two are more dominant than the others, depending on many factors. You may be bi- or pluriliterate.

If you acquired and learned several languages, simultaneously and successively, lived in different places, were schooled in one of the languages, or maybe not..., worked using one of these languages – it might be that your most dominant language is not the first language you acquired or learned.

If our children are schooled in another language chances are high that their most dominant language is the school language...



The reason for this is very simple: we don't (or can't) foster all the vocabulary they learn and use at school also in their home language, because it would mean that they hear the same lessons twice once at school in the school language, once from us at home. 

Recently many schools – not only the international ones! – are opting for a more inclusive policy when it comes to home languages, which I fully support. It is proven that integrating home languages in the practice at school, helps new students, i.e. those who were schooled in their home language earlier, to adapt and integrate easier.

But what about those multilinguals who are schooled in languages that are not their home language(s) since day one? Who maybe had to learn two (or more!) school languages in addition to their home languages due to their moves?

I see a problem in the overall approach, because these latter children are often lacking behind their peers in their countries of origin language wise. They need a whole other support!

Many multilingual families bridge the school and the home languages by discussing about school topics, by providing the necessary input, fostering the right vocabulary. This is hard work! And it requires collaboration and transparency from the teachers and the school in general, and not only on primary school level, but throughout the whole school curriculum!

We parents – even those who are teachers – can't provide all the input that our children receive at school in their school language. We have to make compromises. For my family it means that I focus on the topics my children like the most. I must confess that I find it sad that my children don't count in German or Italian, that they prefer English when it comes to explaining complex subjects, but I know that with patience and our many conversations, they will acquire as much as they can.

I honestly hope that there will be more studies about multilingual families whose children are schooled in another language and who do everything possible for their children to become fluent also in their home languages. I am looking for testimonials from other multilingual families whose children are schooled in another language.

I want to hear from you, how you foster your home language(s) and how it is going, what support you get, what support you would need.

Please share your experience with me, by leaving a comment here below. 

I will gather all the information I can get to write an article, present it at conferences and hopefully we will get more help from governments, schools, teachers, the community we live in.








Posted in Bilingualism, Blog, Family Language Planning, Heritage Language Maintenance, Language Change, Language Development, Language learning, Maintaining Multiple Languages, Multi Literacy, Multilingual, Multilingual Families, Raising Multilinguals, Relocating, Terminology and tagged , , , , , .

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