Heritage speakers of Chinese languages in Asia : sociocultural factors that affect their proficiency in Mandarin Chinese
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Heritage speakers of Chinese languages in Asia: Sociocultural factors that affect their proficiency in Mandarin Chinese discusses several of the reasons that some Asian ethnic Chinese are more proficient at Mandarin Chinese than others. This research was conducted in Taiwan between 2009 and 2011. Research subjects were of Chinese ethnicity, citizens of Asian nations and regions other than the People’s Republic of China or the Republic of China ( Taiwan ), and present in Taiwan as students of Mandarin Chinese and/or various academic subjects. The research question consisted of an overarching question and three sub-questions; the overarching question was: What is the experience of heritage speakers of Chinese languages in Asian countries where Mandarin is not the dominant language?, and the three sub-questions were: 1.) What sociocultural factors result in heritage speakers’ Mandarin learning/development being enhanced?; 2.) What sociocultural factors result in heritage speakers’ Mandarin learning/development being suppressed/not enhanced?; and 3.) Why are ethnic Chinese from non-Chinese nations studying Mandarin in Taiwan ? The researcher also unearthed what is possibly a new paradigm for a “heritage speaker of Mandarin Chinese” in an Asian context. Heritage Mandarin speakers in an Asian context may be a hybrid construct: speakers of a Chinese language with solid skills in the home language, a high degree of contact with Mandarin Chinese in the environment, and the capacity to rapidly acquire Mandarin and enhance one’s skills readily via the advantage of scaffolding at a higher starting point due to already being versed in one or more Chinese language. Some of the salient sociocultural factors which were shown to enhance the Mandarin skills of this population were: similarity of home’s or region’s Chinese language to Mandarin, exposure to Mandarin in the environment, policies favorable to or accepting of this language group and culture, and Mandarin as a medium of classroom instruction. Reasons for studying in Taiwan included its low costs and authentic Chinese environment. It is hoped that this study will inform efforts in the teaching of Mandarin to heritage speakers. It is further hoped that stakeholders who deal with heritage speaker issues consider not only the sociocultural factors explored in this research, but also the importance of considering the effects of language contact between heritage languages and similar languages and dialects.