5. Mother tongue in English-prevalent communities: Perceptions, practices, and outcomes

mother-tongue, attitudes, practices, language mixing, home literacy

W. Quin Yow, Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD)
Alice Hiu Dan Chan, Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies, School of Humanities, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore

Language perceptions shape language practices, which in turn affect language learning outcomes. These are vital parts of language maintenance that can affect language use in future generations (Shameem, 2004). This is especially important to mother tongue (MT) languages as they tend to decline in usage in English-prevalent communities (Xie & Cavallaro, 2016). Given the cultural importance of maintaining one’s MT, it is important to understand how perceived value of MT and language practice at home influence children’s language learning. This thematic session brings together three papers that examine these interrelationships using both adult and child populations from Singapore, an English-prevalent multilingual society.
The first paper focuses on language perceptions. We sampled 1,668 bilingual adults (aged 18-90) who identified Chinese, Malay, or Tamil as their MT and examined their responses to the Mother Tongue Perceptions scale (adapted from Luk & Surrain, 2019). Factor analysis identified two factors underlying the scale: (1) Perceived Societal Value of MT; and (2) Personal Value of Learning Languages. SEM analyses suggest that higher Perceived Societal Value of MT was linked with older age, higher MT proficiency, lower education levels, and being a speaker of the most prevalent MT language (Chinese). Younger age, higher MT proficiency, higher education levels, and being a Malay-speaker were associated with higher Personal Value of Learning Languages. Results shed light on how MT is differentially valued in the community.
The second paper links perception to practice. Past research suggests that bilingual parents’ language attitudes do not necessarily predict their language choices in interactions with their children (Ghimenton, 2015). We examined the relation between parental attitudes toward language-mixing and their self-reported use of language-mixing in conversation with their own child, and the moderating role of the child’s MT language use. Participants were parents (N=231) of 2-6 year-old English-Chinese bilingual children. Regression analyses revealed that parental language-mixing attitudes significantly predicted their language-mixing behavior. However, this relationship was moderated by the child’s MT usage, such that it only held for parents whose child had higher usage of Chinese. Parents of children with lower Chinese usage reported low frequency of language-mixing regardless of attitudes. Results provide insights into how bilingual parents’ attitudes and their child’s language usage influence their home language-mixing practices.
The third paper connects practices to outcomes. The study examined how specific aspects of home language and literacy practices predicted Singaporean bilingual English-Chinese children’s emergent literacy skills in Chinese. Parents of Primary 1 (aged 6-7; N=49) children filled up a background questionnaire regarding socioeconomic status, home language environment (e.g., languages that the child hear and speak), and home literacy practices (e.g., reading and writing routines). Children’s emergent literacy skills in Chinese were measured with a radical awareness task. Regression analyses showed that, controlling for socioeconomic status, home Chinese literacy practices, specifically the age at which the child started to read Chinese books, best predicted children’s radical awareness. Findings highlight the crucial role of early parental home literacy decisions in MT literacy development.

  1. Examining the Value of Mother Tongue in Bilingual Singapore Through the Mother Tongue Perception Scale, Clara G.H. Chan and W. Quin Yow
  2. Children’s Language Usage Moderates the Relationship between Parental Language-Mixing Attitudes and Behaviors, Xiaoqian Li and W. Quin Yow
  3. Reading starts at home: Early home literacy practices predict bilingual children’s reading development in Mother Tongue, Fun Lau, Wendy Toh and Alice Chan
  4. Factors that affect the Chinese linguistic self-confidence of students studying in an integrated programme-special assistance plan school: a study based on students’ perceptions, Sarina Fanyu Chiu, Xin Ling Lai, Zi Yun Thia, Anne Kang and W. Quin Yow
  5. Heritage languages in the Irish primary school context: an investigation into teachers’ attitude and pedagogical practice in the area of support for first language maintenance in bilingual pupils, Suzanne McCarthy and Bozena Dubiel