Families with Emergent Bilinguals of English and Chinese: A Case Study of Family Language Policy in China

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Parents and grandparents in China are implementing family language policies (FLPs) to promote their children’s bilingualism, which needs a detailed study focusing on them. This study investigated the FLPs of families of young children who are non-native speakers of English living in China. Using a case study methodology (Merriam, 1998), I examined the FLPs of five Chinese families who are raising their children bilingually. This study described, compared, and contrasted the language ideologies, language management, and language practices among the families by using semi-structured interviews with parents and grandparents, parent-child audio recordings, weekly literacy activities, and children’s artefacts. The study draws from Spolsky’s (2004) language policy model as its conceptual framework. The findings revealed that almost all mothers believe that English and Chinese were equally important, while all fathers believed Mandarin was more important, and different beliefs about English were found among grandparents. Although most of the fathers had good English abilities, it was the mothers who conducted most of the English language management and practice at home, revealing a gendered division of labour in FLP. The study also found that grandparents played vital roles in children’s Mandarin language development. These families faced similar challenges and obstacles in raising a bilingual child in China: lack of English environment and time; occasional demotivation; financial burdens; and, misunderstanding from others. The findings from this study reveal the importance of participation by all family members in supporting each other in raising bilingual children, including the grandparents. Finally, contrary to some parents’ beliefs, the mothers’ English abilities and educational background should not be a constraint to English FLP and the children’s English development.
family language policy, child bilingualism, English learning, parents and grandparents, emergent bilinguals
Ma, Y. (2023). Families with emergent bilinguals of English and Chinese: a case study of family language policy in China (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca.