Multilingual Digital Practices in Transnational Families

Thematic Section: Bilingual family communication in the digital flux

multilingualism, digitally mediated communication, family, speech communities, research protocols

Janina Iwaniec, Department of Education, University of Bath
Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen, Department of Education, University of Bath

Digital devices are omnipresent in our everyday life and have an immense impact on our social communication and language practices. Transnational families often engage in multilingual practices with their family members close and far via digital devices and through social media. As a result, children are immersed in new technologies which exposes them to multiple languages and digital literacy. This presentation focuses on multilingual and multiliteracy practices of a group of transnational families from two communities in the UK – Polish and Chinese. Through the lens of family language policy, this comparative study looks into how parents and children establish their family language practices, negotiate meanings and develop multiliteracy skills through social media and digital devices. The study involves three sets of families with extended family members from each community. Using family language audit as a methodological tool, we conducted ethnographic fieldwork through observation of the families to collect ‘live’ events that were captured through digital communications, including Wechat (Chinese social media app), WhatsApp, Skype, and other apps. The findings indicate that social media are powerful tools to socialise children into multilingual practices and thus enable them to engage in both heritage language and cultural activities. Such engagement will have positive impact on their multi-literacy practices, identity and cognitive development.