Paternal agency in heritage language maintenance in Australia – Polish fathers in action

Thematic Section: Language and communication in transcultural families

family language policy, transcultural bi/multilingual families, translanguaging, migrant families, language ideology

Piotr Romanowski, University of Warsaw
According to the 2016 Census, there are over 300 languages spoken in Australian homes. More than 21% of Australians report speaking a LOTE. Of those 48,000 people use Polish. The State of Victoria have the largest Polish population in Australia (33%). While there are eight Polish Saturday schools in Melbourne, exposure to Polish among primary school children is rather limited. Consequently, they shift towards English monolingualism after beginning mainstream schooling. As much as language input and usage are known to be central to acquisition and maintenance, parental support in children’s bilingual development considerably affects their proficiency in the heritage language.
By applying an FLP framework to data collected from in-depth qualitative interviews, this study aims to explore the beliefs and practices of Polish-speaking fathers of 10 year-olds. The results of conducted thematic analysis disclosed that the Polish fathers perceived Polish maintenance alongside English acquisition as crucial for communication in their families, career opportunities and resettlement to Poland. Nonetheless, the beliefs concerning how bilingual development is to be best supported diverged across the families. There were instances of the ML@H policy entrusting their children’s English development to the school environment. Others implemented a clear OPOL strategy allowing for both the minority and majority languages to grow in their households. Yet, two other fathers tried to avoid setting strict rules to motivate their children’s active use of Polish at home and seeking out other forms of support, e.g. in Polish Saturday schools.
From the experiences of these Polish-speaking fathers it transpires that they strived to sustain their children’s Polish acquisition by applying various home language policies and discourse strategies. Also, the fathers held many analogous perceptions and concerns when compared to other studies involving parents in different geographical contexts.