Private language policies of bilingual couples: Raising children into a second language in Poland

Thematic Section: Language and communication in transcultural families

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

Agnieszka Stępkowska, Uniwersytet Szczeciński
The paper explores private language policies of bilingual couples in Poland toward their children. Based on data from 24 in-depth interviews, analyzed via a qualitative method, I identify the types of bilingual families in Poland by showing that they share parallel educational experiences. Depending on the specific linguistic constellation of a bilingual couple, the patterns of language use can vary widely. The resulting type of bilingualism in children may be active or passive depending on the pattern of use of the two languages; it may encompass oral and written skills in both languages or only a small degree of literacy in the family minority languages, or none at all. A focus on bilingual couples with children reveals factors that contribute to multilingual development and practices of all family members. The patterns of language choice in family have an important influence on language socialization of children. Bilingualism matters for parents who want to prepare their children for life in a multicultural and multilingual society. Language use mirrors not only the preferred choice patterns of parents but also their language beliefs and – by extension – their personal and social identities. Extracts from interviews present parental attitudes which include the strategies of bilingual upbringing used by parents. The identification of bilingual family types has a crucial bearing for the understanding of everyday bilingual communication between parents and children. Parental attitudes to languages influence the effectiveness of communication in family and give shape to private language policies. Notably, the research findings reveal an appreciation of bilingual couplehood in the context of children’s linguistic future and satisfactory evaluations of these policies’ outcomes.