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'Mama, am I always going to speak my beautiful languages?': Heritage language maintenance in New Zealand

This study aimed to explore heritage language maintenance in New Zealand. Specifically, language beliefs, practices and education opportunities are investigated within the domains of family, community and education. A convenience sample was recruited by snowball recruitment. Invitations to participate were distributed through Facebook and emails to local community leaders. By use of an online, open-item questionnaire, participants from migrant communities were invited to share attitudes, practices and experiences about their family language use at home and in the community, and language education opportunities for their children. Data were gathered from 35 migrant parents of school-aged children, representing 40 languages, and analysed following a systematic thematic analysis approach. Findings in relation to language beliefs indicate participants share positive attitudes towards their heritage language, identifying themes of identity, family cohesion, and cognitive, academic, economic and cultural benefits to multilingualism. However, although children seem to share their parents’ positive language beliefs, themes of ambivalence emerge in relation to sense of identity, and the perceived social and academic capital of their heritage language. The findings also indicate clear evidence of children’s language shift upon starting mainstream education. It was found that the marginalised position of heritage languages in New Zealand introduces a burden on families seeking to maintain their languages. Formal heritage language education is reported as largely unavailable. In this context, the responsibility of language maintenance falls to families and communities, who are faced with challenges such as limited funding, facilities and resources to support language acquisition and maintenance. Despite these challenges, most parents report engaging in communicative strategies to support their children’s heritage language acquisition such as conversation, literature and media. Findings from this study suggest that language maintenance is achieved when heritage language environments exist in a variety of domains beyond the family. Enabling more successful heritage language maintenance requires a collaboration across families, communities, schools and government. Doing so yields benefits to wellbeing, identity development, academic and economic performance, and improves social cohesion.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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