The contexts of heritage language learning : immigrant Taiwanese mothers and social capital
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This study explored the contexts that immigrant Taiwanese mothers provided for their American born children concerning heritage language learning. Five immigrant Taiwanese mothers in central Texas participated in this study. To collect data, a qualitative approach was used including in-depth interviews, follow up interviews, supplemental interviews with other family members, and observations of the mothers and their children in different environments. The data was analyzed to answer two research questions: (1) What meanings do immigrant Taiwanese mothers attribute to their American-born children's heritage language? (2) What are the strategies that immigrant Taiwanese mothers describe themselves as using in relation to their American-born children's heritage language learning? This study demonstrated that because of the relative lack of heritage language teaching resources independent of the family, the mothers played an important role in teaching their children a wide variety of languages including Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, Spanish, Japanese, and Cantonese. Furthermore, the meanings that the mothers placed on heritage language could be categorized into cultural relationships, family bonds, social status within the immigrant community, relationship with American and global societies, and academic achievement and social success. The strategies the Taiwanese immigrant mothers used to teach heritage and home languages were diverse but could be analyzed by the concept of social capital and the theories of Lev Vygotsky. The mothers with more economic capital were able to use their social capital to allow one parent to stay at home teaching their children heritage language full-time. They were also able to purchase other people's time in the form of services and effectively use resources such as the Chinese school or travel to promote heritage language learning. Thus, they could actively pursue and establish goals for their children's heritage language learning. Mothers with less social capital were less able to provide an environment promoting early language learning and instead hoped for other resources in the future. The result was that mothers with more social capital were able to have their children excel in many languages including English, while mothers with less social capital not only had difficulty creating proficiency in heritage language but also in English.