Number of schools abroad where Latvian language, culture and traditions is taught




South America




Russian Federation

Number of schools









The Latvian Language Agency often receives different questions from diaspora teachers related to acquisition of native language and learning the host country’s language. Preserving and maintaining native language in diaspora has always been a difficult and challenging task. How can the process of learning different languages be facilitated? Why it is important to acquire not only the language of host country, but also the native language? Ina Druviete and Vita Kalnberzina, professors of the University of Latvia, answer and explain these and other questions.


Dr. hab. philol. Ina Druviete is a linguist and professor at the University of Latvia, Faculty of Education and Psychology, Department of Teacher Education, where she provides soon-to-be teachers with academic courses in sociolinguistics, general linguistics and theory of bilingual education. She is the author of more than 300 scholarly publications in various linguistic fields (language policy, sociolinguistics, general linguistics, etc.). Professor Druviete is a member of various international redactive publishers. She was the vice president of EFNIL (European Federation of National Institutions for Language) and Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia from 2004 to 2006. She is also one of the developers of language policy and bilingual education conception.

Dr. philol. Vita Kalnberzina is an associate professor at the University of Latvia, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Anglistics, and the president of Latvian Association of Language Teachers. Her academic courses, held at the University, cover topics in the theory and practice of intercultural communication, psycho-linguistics and methodology of English-language teaching. She has studied psycholinguistics in Great Britain and Switzerland. Currently, she is supervising research in the fields of psycholinguistics and intercultural communication.


1. How do children learn a language? When does this process begin?

Ina Druviete:

Acquisition of a language and language ability of a human being is still one of the main issues to be researched in cognitive science, psychology and linguistics. There are various and different theories about the origin and development of language. All of us are witnesses to the fact of how seemingly easy it is for a child to acquire his or her first language. How is it actually possible?

We could look at the process of language development as a part of human evolution process. All animal species possess the ability (and such ability is found to be had by the human predecessors as well) to use many and diverse means of non-verbal communication. Every day, thousands of nonverbal cues and behaviours including postures, facial expression, eye gaze, gestures, tone of voice, etc. is responded to. In that way, the process of communication with other animals and species members takes place. Let’s take a look at our cat: how much it is able to produce without words! However, as philosopher Bertrand Russel has said, “No matter how eloquently a dog may bark, he cannot tell you that his parents were poor, but honest”. Information that precise could be provided only by verbal language –– speech. Language allows us to express our thoughts and emotions in a precise and detailed manner; it lets us talk about the events that have taken place in other time and space. The communication of animals is limited by a biologically determined number of signals, while human being is able to produce unlimited amount of utterances just by using several tens of phonemes. Our language is a unit of verbal signals and symbols, and it is the reason that the development of culture and civilization has ever been possible.

Currently, it is considered that a special gene FOXP2 (a part of neurological structure), characteristic of only the human species, is the key to language ability. It ensures development of language and speech by controlling cognitive processes and articulation. Verbal language is not that ancient –– it evolved some 200,000 years ago in a small community, most believably in current territory of Ethiopia. Currently, there are about 6900 languages. They all are different, in terms of lexicon and language structure. However, all languages have their grammar, and all languages, regardless of their status, amount of speakers and extent of development, are equal as cognitive systems.

The idea about the universal nature of the world’s languages is also the basis of the prominent and widely acknowledged universal or generative grammar theory of Noam Chomsky, i.e. language is innate. He is implying that children need only learn certain parochial features of their native languages, since they are born with already existing language acquisition mechanism that allows them to combine words (lexemes, to be more precise) that they have learned in various utterances and contexts, and be able to understand the utterances created by others. Nowadays, the understanding of universal grammar has moved from common, universal characteristics of languages to the ability to acquire a verbal language (Steven Pinker). It is not known, whether this ability is already possessed by a newborn baby, yet it has been proven that it does develop during the lifetime.


Vita Kalnberzina:

Scholars who research language acquisition can be divided into two groups: ones who consider that the basis of language acquisition is the ability to reproduce, and others who believe that language acquisition takes place by using some special language acquisition mechanism. American neuro-linguist Steven Pinker refers to it as a language instinct which is possessed by human beings in the same way as, for example, a bird has its instinct to fly. There is research that shows that children, regardless of their surrounding and amount of languages they learn, follow the same pace, i.e. they start to recognize vowels and consonants, produce syllables and learn new words at the same time periods. Also, the fact that all of us, regardless of our intellectual level and abilities, are acquiring the language we hear around us shows that this specific mechanism exists. Another fact that proves this theory is that children do acquire language and all its complete system, even if parents often speak unclearly, inexplicitly, make mistakes, and do not correct mistakes in child’s speech.

The very process of language acquisition begins already before the child is born. A two-day-old child is already able to recognize language rhythm –– when hearing the sounds and intonations of their native language, the child’s heartbeat rapidly increases.

If parent speak with their child, then already a two-month-old baby is able to differentiate between voiced and voiceless consonants, and at the age of 6 to 8 months, a child recognizes all mother tongue sounds and stops reacting to the foreign sounds. This is the reason, why, for instance, 10-month-old Japanese babies do not differentiate between the sounds r and l. During the first year of life, children listen to the usage of language and its context. They are able to recognize words heard in a natural speech and can link the word with an actual object, however, the main meaning of the sentence is still perceived primarily by intonation. During the second year of life, children acquire syntax: They notice that the sequence of words in the sentence does change the meaning of the sentence (e.g. A boy is chasing the dog vs. A dog is chasing the boy), they learn to see the difference between the actor and action, in that way also differentiating reflexive and regular verbs; they begin to perceive the semantics or meaning of different language units and elements. During the third year of life, children start to create main clauses and subordinate or dependent clauses. They distinguish subordination and coordination syntactic relations not only in speech produced by others, but also in their own.


2. How can parents contribute to acquisition of the mother tongue? Why is it important to acquire parents’ mother tongue (-s)?


Ina Druviete:

Mowgli, who surely had some sort of genetically inherited language acquisition mechanism, was able to learn the necessary skills to survive among animals and interpret the communication between Baloo, the bear, and Bagheera, the panther; yet, he was never able to learn human language. There have been several documented examples of children who have been found in animal dens and who, after reaching certain age, are not able to develop the language skill. And on the other hand, even the most talented teacher won’t be able to teach the verbal language to a dog or chimpanzee just because no other species, except that of human beings, has the necessary language gene.

So, we can conclude, that language development can occur only if there is the innate language acquisition mechanism and if its action is facilitated by other language speakers. If one of those two factors fails, language will not develop. And people know it –– already starting with the very first days parents speak with their child in a specific way, which contributes to language acquisition. There are only few nations, that don’t consider it necessary to speak with very little children. In vast majority of cultures there is an intensive verbal communication with newborn babies. The characteristics of this communication usually include slowness, clear speech, repetition of words, demonstrative speaking – word vs. object, and explicit mimics and gestures. Parents do it instinctively, feeling that in such a way it will be easier for the child to extricate the language related sounds out of the surrounding environment and to classify them according to the grammatical categories.

Speaking figuratively, there are genetically developed niches or drawers in a child’s brain, designed for any language phenomenon. According to N. Chomsky, these are called deep structures – ready to be filled with the language material. If there is a child in the family where parents speak Latvian, the drawers of Latvian nouns’ dative form is filled with these forms; if the language spoken in family is Russian, then the drawer fills up with respective forms in Russian. If there is a lack of a particular language phenomenon (for example, Finno-Ugric languages lack the category of grammatical gender), this drawer remains empty, but it never disappears. Later, when a new language is learned, the characteristic grammatical phenomenon, will take its place in the respective drawer. Given such a preparation mechanism, we can explain the speed of children’s ability to learn their mother tongue. There might be difficulties, caused by the language phenomena, extrinsic to the system. Why do most Latvian children at some point say ēdīt, sapint matus, sasej kurpes? The answer is easy: it is always more difficult to learn exceptions than regular language. The acquisition process of many grammar forms is slow and gradual; most of them are learned through experience (making mistakes) and correction (correcting mistakes).

It should be noted that there is much evidence to the fact that the filling of those drawers begins even before the child is born. As a matter of fact, that is the reason why in some countries pregnant women attend pregnancy school where a part of training consists of listening to different foreign languages, so that the child gets used to variety of forms and sounds. In addition, many soon-to-be mothers are advised to listen to Mozart’s music – not only because it’s calming and relaxing but also because there is a great fluctuation of frequencies which help in preparing the child for more precise pronunciation of different sounds.

During the language learning process, children also learn social behaviour. Linguist Dell Hymes notes that, “Children learn not only what is grammatically correct, but also what is appropriate. They learn, when to talk, what to say, with whom to talk and about what to talk, and when it is better to keep silent. The usage of language is the cornerstone of upbringing and socialization.”

How is a child’s language development and verbal intelligence facilitated? The golden rule says: The child must be in constant contact with the language, “swim” in it, and the language used, should be diverse and rich. Parents should speak with their child as much as possible, overcoming the temptation to use simplified speech. The idea of being half a step ahead of a child is true also in case of language acquisition. Even if some words or meanings seem to be unclear or new, the child will grasp it from the context. Let’s talk with our child about serious and intelligent topics, let’s use both fairytales and academic books, let’s not avoid foreign words, terms, borrowings and regional words, and let’s use those language elements as a game! In that way we will encourage our children to clearly state their opinion, emotions, thoughts, we will help them to argue and to prove opinion. This is the key to success – the ability to use language in all its complexity and to choose proper language means for each and particular life situation.


Vita Kalnberzina:

During the first year of child’s life, it is essential that parents talk with their child, since this is a very important age in language acquisition and development. Parents should, however, avoid the situations where TV or radio is turned on because these surrounding noises impede the perception of “living” language. Several Canadian researches show that in each language there is the so called children language variant, which has evolved through centuries and anticipates the emotional development of a child. Let’s look at this Latvian folk rhyme for children as an example:

Jājam, jājam mēs ar zirgu,

Ja tas kritīs – ņemsim citu;

Soļiem, soļiem, soļiem,

Rikšiem, rikšiem, rikšiem,

Aulekšiem! Aulekšiem!

All the sounds are rhythmically repeated and linked to movements, and that helps the child to perceive sound and language rhythm. By regularly repeating it, we meanwhile help the child to feel safe.

When a foreign language is taught by adults, we miss this phase – learning the child language – that’s why later, when we communicate with child in second, third etc. language, the emotional contact is not that strong anymore, thus we don’t cover all the language layers. It is important to not only hear the language, but also to participate in the process.

The acquisition of mother tongue (-s) during the first year of child’s life determines the size of brain. Researches show that children who are more engaged in watching television and less in communicating with people have smaller capacity of brain. The ability to perceive language and to communicate, gained in the very first year, will influence the process of foreign language acquisition and communication for the rest of life.


3.  Can a child have two mother tongues? How is this process of language acquisition taking place?

Ina Druviete:

If a child during the first three years of his or her life is in the contact situation with two (or even more) languages, then we can consider all of them as mother tongues. Sociolinguists suggest using term first language or first languages, and with the term second language indicating any language which has been learned after the first language.

During early childhood, languages, regardless of the amount, are being acquired based on the same model. A child does not translate words from one language into another; he or she simultaneously fills the drawers with language materials of both languages.

There should not be any concern that the child can get overburden or his or her intellectual development could get impeded. We use only a tiny part of the capacity of our brain, and there would be plenty of space left in our language material repository, even after learning ten languages. Besides, the conceptual base is developing commonly: The simultaneous acquisition of two languages could be compared to two tops of the visible parts of icebergs, where the part under the water is the conceptual foundation and common knowledge.

Bilingual children usually are raised in families where each of the parents has their own dominating language. Most often, the mother and the father opts to speak with their child in their own language. Some time ago, it was considered, that one should strictly obey the principle: “one person – one language”, but this opinion has changed. If parents feel that some of the language skills begin to lag behind, there is nothing wrong with it, if for some time both parents will work on strengthening it. In cases of trilingualism, usually parents know each other’s language very poorly and choose another (the third) language for communication. Experience show that the skill of this third language develops only if from time to time the child gets involved in communication in one of those two other languages as well.


Vita Kalnberzina:

If the child is spoken to in several languages during early childhood, then, as a matter of fact, he or she will have several mother tongues. At the beginning, the child will mix the languages, but gradually two independent language systems will form.

Individuals who have two independent language systems possess better metalinguistic and cognitive skills, as well as the activity of brain during old age.


4.  Won’t any of languages take advantage of the other language in terms of language development?


Ina Druviete:

Sometimes, language acquisition is compared to scales of balance – if there is more on one side, then there is less on the other. It is, though, an inappropriate comparison. We did show earlier, that the brain of a child can process more material than it is traditionally believed. Children in bilingual families acquire two languages as fast as monolingual children and by using the same learning mechanisms. It is true also for the so-called successive bilingualism, i.e. children who learn the second language after they have learned their first one. We can talk here about the mutual compensation mechanism of languages – every language has its own verbal system but both possess common non-verbal association system. Often (even though, it happens unconsciously), when comparing both languages, a child is able to maintain them in the same skill level, since he or she has to be able to communicate and express notions in any of them.

I should add that currently the semi-linguistic concept of 60’s – the hypothesis that, when simultaneously learning two languages, each of them can be acquired only to a certain extent – has been already rejected. A regular child in a favourable atmosphere and good social and economic conditions is going to be able to master both languages completely: the reasons for linguistic backwardness are either of medical nature, or socially and economically preconditioned. False is also the assumption that the acquisition of the second language depends on the amount of time spent in this language environment. The more developed and rich a child’s first language is, the better this child will learn the second language. It is most likely, that the basic skills (related to the concept of linguistic universals) are common, which means that the skills and knowledge, gained in the first language, can be transferred to other languages.

Moreover, the acquisition of the second language has positive impact on the development of the first language. By comparing languages, which we do either consciously or unconsciously, the improvement and deeper understanding of linguistic processes takes place. We should not be concerned about short-term language mixing or interference period, since it is absolutely natural and transient phenomenon. The deeper the acquisition of both languages is, the more and more child becomes aware of the borders between languages and the less he or she is going to mix the languages. The so-called switch of codes is a different level phenomenon – when playing with the language, child sometimes consciously involves some elements, words or phrases of the second language. To strengthen the linguistic competence, parents could stimulate their pre-school or school-aged children to compare languages or to do some simplified translations and interpretations.


5. If the family uses both native language (-s) and the host-country language, how is the acquisition of the mother tongue promoted?


Vita Kalnberzina:

Multilingualism is troublesome and it is very important to get integrated and involved into local host-country’s society – that was a very popular opinion during the last century. That was the reason, why many parents were using host-country’s language when communicating with their child. It was also the society that tried to separate the children from their parents to teach them the language of society. Unfortunately, as the research later showed, if children do not have and develop an emotional link with their parents, they are unable to become full-fledged members of the society. That is why both the USA and Canada have refused a monolingual policy and parents are encouraged to speak with their children in mother tongue.


6. If mother’s or father’s language happens to be the language of host country or language of instruction in school, how is the language of the second parent preserved? How is its usage promoted?


Vita Kalnberzina:

At the beginning, parents should rely on their innate ability to take care of their child, to understand him or her. Similarly important is also the confidence about the value of one’s native language and about the information and value system encoded in it. Each language is a value not only for us, but also for the rest of the world, since it contains such unique information. By teaching our child the native language and thus enriching him or her, we also transfer this uniqueness, accumulated by humanity.

Economic calculations show: The rarer the language is, the more economically beneficial knowledge of such language is. And vice versa: The larger the number of speakers of a particular language, the less value it has in the language market. It is essential to remember that it is not enough to teach a child only the oral form of a language; to have complete communication and use all the language expression means, the written form must be acquired as well.


7.  How should one act if one of the parents’ languages dominates in the family?


Vita Kalnberzina:

It is obvious that both parents have to communicate with the child in their own mother tongue, but both should also respect the other language. It is the respect towards the language and individual who speaks it.


8. Should the second language be taught if the first one has not been completely acquired? Is it difficult for a child to learn several languages simultaneously?


Ina Druviete:

This is typically the issue of diaspora families, when the language, spoken at home, is usually the native language, but, since parents realize that their children will have to acquire the host country’s language sooner or later, there is an intensive usage of the host country’s language. The basics of first language are usually acquired during the first four years. Even though language development is a continuous process that takes place during one’s whole life, linguistic maturity is reached by the age of 12. It is the period when language obtains the syntactic and lexically-semantic characteristics typical for an adult. Most importantly, during this period, the child begins to use the language abstracted from the context (as a result of his or her personal experience). This is why the acquirement of native language is especially important in primary school. It doesn’t mean at all, that other languages cannot or should not be taught during this time. It could even be a different (not native) language of instruction, on a condition that there are special classes and/or events organized for learning the native language.

Concerning the second (or third, fourth, etc.) language – it can be taught in any age. There is no such thing as a critical period (like, for example, the second year of life, the beginning of school, learning the writing skills etc.), when simultaneous acquisition of other languages would not be desirable. Besides, language learning in early childhood has many advantages. The metabolic activity of brain is the highest from age 2 to 12, when the synapses, responsible for controlling language acquisition, have not lost their reaction (activity) yet. To conclude, the current approach states: from age 10 to 12, the skills of native and other languages should be developed as much as possible.


Vita Kalnberzina:

It is only natural to learn several languages, and it is also not difficult if the child is being loved and taken care of by the same people who speak their own language. The human brain is absolutely suited for multilingualism. As a matter of fact, there are more than 6000 languages in the world but only 192 countries, which means that about 60% of people are multilingual.


9.  Will the acquisition of the second (third etc.) language impede a child’s intellectual development?


Ina Druviete:

There has been the opinion that the acquisition of two languages takes advantage of thinking abilities, i.e. two languages will occupy more space in the brain, thus leaving less space for other knowledge.

These and other conclusions became popular after research carried out in the 1960s observed and compared the intelligence of monolinguals and bilinguals. These conclusions were later rejected because of impreciseness. First, with IQ tests, one can determine only a very little about intellectual capability used in daily life, i.e. it is the so-called logical mathematical intelligence. According to the multiple intelligence theory of the acknowledged psychologist and educator Howard Gardner, there are seven intelligences, and logical mathematical intelligence is just one of them. The latest researches show that bilingual people are ahead of monolingual people in development of verbal and interpersonal intelligences, and their performance in other types of intelligences (bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, musical, as well as logical mathematical) is not worse. Second, there were serious methodical errors made during the 1960s (inconsiderate selection of participants and sample group, ignoring individual belonging to particular layers of society, the choice of language during the tests, etc.). At the end of the 1990s, when these results were re-analyzed, it was proven that there is no logical and considerate explanation to misconceptions about the bilingualism’s negative influence on thinking abilities.

Does the acquisition of several languages interfere with the accumulation with knowledge? Certainly not. First, language acquisition doesn’t mean only the gathering of linguistic material; language is the mean of accumulating and acquiring different knowledge. Second, there is special room in the brain kept for linguistic information, and it cannot decrease or increase at the expense of other knowledge. Third, there has been astounding research carried out in the very last years about the functioning of human brain (S. Pinker etc.) revealing that a two year old child has 50% more synapses than an adult, thus having the ability to accumulate more information. If those abilities are not used, they disappear. It is the way nature works – it gets rid of the unnecessary. It means that during the early childhood, the emphasis should be put not only on emotional and physical development, but also to intellectual development of the child.

Children are able to perceive more information than given. So, let’s retreat from the myths about bilingualism’s negative influence and let’s teach our children languages – the sooner, the better; the more, the better.


Vita Kalnberzina:

Children, who are in families with two or more languages spoken, can begin to speak later. Similarly, children, who learn several languages at school, might acquire them more slowly, but it happens in exactly the same manner as for other children. When learning several languages simultaneously, not only languages are being learned. The meta-linguistic competence, critical and analytical thinking is also developed. Of course, it takes more time, but the result is not only the skills of two or more languages, but considerable cognitive development has taken place.


10.  When can one say that the (second) language has been acquired? And, is there a difference between children and adults?


Ina Druviete:

It is sometimes believed that a person has acquired a certain language when his or her social communication skills in the respective language are stable. However, since communication is connected to context, it can involve also non-verbal elements, and corresponds to the level of intelligence and age. Recently, the statement saying that children can acquire languages easier than adults has been doubted. The so-called critical period hypothesis has been replaced by assumption that children’s seeming and imaginary ease of learning language is socially, not biologically preconditioned. Children learn what corresponds to their age, and they have absolutely no prejudice about the other language or its speakers. But one can consider a language to be mastered if the mentioned skills are followed by certain usage of abstract skills. In order to obtain and develop social communication skills, one needs two years; for development of abstract (de-contextualized) skills, one needs five to seven years. This hypothesis is linked to the theory about the role of native language in the process of second language acquisition. If we know, for example, that in school there are four years planned for second language learning, then it is more considerate to start doing it in the fifth, and not in the second grade. The exception is the oral language skills.

It is assumed that the chain of neurons, which controls the connection between brain and speech organs, develops early; that is why children who have started to acquire the second language earlier will more likely avoid having an accent.

Knowing that our synapses in the brain tend to decrease during the lifetime, we have to deal with the fact that language acquisition ability after age 12 will also decrease. A child is able to acquire language even if his or her left brain hemisphere is damaged or has been removed, but for adults it would cause permanent aphasia – a complex acquired neurological disorder that is caused by damage to the portions of the brain that are responsible for language. Someone with aphasia may have difficulty speaking, reading, writing, recognizing the names of objects, or understanding what other people say. Aphasia most often affects adults who have suffered a stroke, but it can also result from a brain tumor, an infection, a head injury, or forms of dementia that cause brain damage. In young people, the most common cause of the disorder is head injury.

Adults rarely are able to master the language (phonetics and grammar) completely (thus, the accent), they often tend to make typical and stable types of mistakes that are hard to correct. It should be noted, that there is no evidence saying that it would be more difficult for adults to learn the lexicon. The language acquisition process is different for adults, since it is more influenced by individual differences (effort, attitude, motivation, learning quality, learning environment, talent, etc.). Again, even though any age is appropriate for language learning, it is highly recommended to use the natural advantage and start this process already in childhood.


11.  What language should be used when communicating with the child if there are other people (speaking, say, the host country’s language) present? How important it is to be consistent in choosing the communication language?


Ina Druviete:

There is no correct answer – we should critically evaluate the situation. Realizing the individual stages of child development, we should not always insist on using only the family language in all the situations. Similarly, it is not always the most correct thing to use incompletely, even primitively learned host country’s language at home with an excuse to help the child to adapt in the new language environment. One should also be aware of the fact, that maintaining and preserving language in diaspora will demand a lot of effort and knowledge but it is not impossible. It is obvious, that multiple language skills will provide the child with many advantages, which will be useful later in life.

Vita Kalnberzina:

It is most important to be natural. One can speak different languages while being with the child, but there should be special time reserved to speak directly with a child. The mother tongue would be most appropriate, since it allows us to express more figuratively, emotionally and also more directly. If the child doesn’t know the language of his or her parents, he or she won’t be able to understand parents as well as he or she could. The same is true for the parents.

The transfer of the mother tongue to the children is crucial for us and for our relationship not only now but also later, since when the kids will grow up, a special link and language, as a special code, will remain. Children learn languages from their parents, friends and other people around. It happens unconsciously and naturally. The language of the host country can be acquired in kindergarten and/or school, or by communicating with peers. The family’s task is thus to teach a positive and open attitude, and respect towards any language and present environment; such positive experience of relationship in a family will contribute to the child’s social skills and abilities to develop new friendships, communication with other individuals and making friends. And it would obviously facilitate the language acquisition as such.


12.  How should one proceed if the child persistently answers only in the host country’s language? How can he or she be motivated to use the language of the parents? Is it possible that a child refusing to speak the parents’ language will start using it again or learning it after some time? What should be done to succeed in such a scenario?


Ina Druviete:

The maintenance and preservation of native language in diaspora is always a difficult task. To get a brief insight, I recommend taking a look on what the well-known sociolinguist Bernard Spolsky has written in his book “Language Management”:

“It is important to realize that language and language policy both exist in (and language management must contend with) highly complex, interacting and dynamic contexts, the modification of any part of which may have correlated effects (and causes) on any other part. A host of non-linguistic factors (political, demographic, social, religious, cultural, psychological, bureaucratic, and so on) regularly account for any attempt of persons or groups to intervene in the language practices and the beliefs of other persons or groups, and for the subsequent changes that do or do not occur. A simple cause-and-effect approach using only language-related data is unlikely to produce useful accounts of language policy, embedded as it is in a “real world” of contextual variables.

A useful metaphor for the contexts is ecology, defined by Haugen (1971) as “the study of the interactions between any given language and its environment.” Language forms a cultural system (building on certain basic biological components such as design features derived from body shape and structural features that are determined by brain structures), a system of unbelievable complexity and magnificent flexibility (anything I say can be and is interpreted and misunderstood in myriad ways, but we more or less get by). We acquire these language practices in constant “constructive interaction” (the term from Oyama 2000) with our social environment, both human and natural, so that changes in language variables (and so in languages) are most likely to be associated with non-linguistic variables.

In studying language policy, we are usually trying to understand just what non-language variables co-vary with the language variables. There are also cases of direct efforts to manipulate the language situation. When a person or group directs such intervention, I call it language management (I prefer this term to planning, engineering, or treatment). The language manager might be a legislative assembly writing a national constitution. Or it might be a national legislature, making a law determining which language should be official. Or it could be a state or provincial or cantonal or other local governmental body determining the language of signs. It can be a special interest group seeking to influence a legislature to amend a constitution or make a new law. It can be a law court determining what the law is, or an administrator implementing (or not) a law about language. Or it can be an institution or business, deciding which languages to use or teach or publish or provide interpreters for. Or it can be a family member trying to persuade others in the family to speak a heritage language.

But language policy exists even where it has not been made explicit or established by authority. Many countries and institutions and social groups do not have formal or written language policies, so that the nature of their language policy must be derived from a study of their language practice or beliefs. Even where there is a formal written language policy, its effect on language practices is neither guaranteed nor consistent.

The choice of language in a family is influenced by sociolinguistic ecology at home and outside the home, as well as the parents’ confidence about what would make the best strategy. The situation is less difficult if there are only two adults and a child in family. Difficulties usually occur when there are also grandparents or other member of elder generation for whom it might take longer time to learn the new language or who are too emotionally attached to their own language. M. Sakomoto has observed six Korean families in New York. In each of the families there was a child and some with grandparents. What parents were naturally hoping for was that this would ensure the preservation of their mother tongue and culture. When I first came to Israel, I spent all the weekend in the home of my friend. Her family was from Tunisia; her husband’s parents spoke mainly Tunisian Arabic language and a bit of French; her husband spoke fluent Arabic and French, and Hebrew; she herself spoke a bit of Arabic, fluent French and was studying Hebrew. Her six-year-old son was learning Arabic from his grandparents, he spoke Hebrew with his father and French with his mother, except the school, where they both were using only Hebrew.

“By changing social roles and environments, such language shifts help in understanding the concept of domain. Quite popular is also the language shift depending on the communication partner. Malay people, older than 16, admitted that in families they mainly use Malay language – always, when communicating with grandparents, sometimes with parents, and Malay and English with their siblings.” (Burhanudeen 2003). Chinese emigrants in New Zealand tend to use Chinese in order to involve grandparents in their conversations (Ng, He 2004).

If there are new offspring in family, the home environment usually changes. The changes occur also, when the oldest child starts to attend school. It often happens that this child begins to use the new language (i.e. the school language) at home with his or her siblings and fairly often also with the parents. Similarly, Russian speaking immigrants from post-Soviet countries in Israel learn Hebrew from their children (Dittmar et al 2002). In general, millions of those immigrants traditionally demonstrate explicit loyalty towards Russian language, literature and culture; adults often preserve the use of Russian in social communication and culture, even if they have mastered very good Hebrew and use it in their professional life. Their children are also provided with Russian Sunday schools; however, most of the children choose to speak Hebrew, even if parents use Russian when communicating with them. In conversations with their bilingual peers, there are often code switching cases (Donitsa-Schmidt 1999, Kopeliovisch 2006).

As long as children obey parents’ authority, parents can expect that children will consider their language policy. Much depends on the status of parents and their native language. For example, English speaking people in Israel tend to better preserve their native language; that can be explained by the status English language has, its wide usage in media (TV, Internet, popular music, computer programmes, etc.) as well as the high education level and economic status of English speakers.

Vita Kalnberzina:

There should not be any concern about it; parents can continue communicating with their child in their native language. Language codes and switches are natural part of language acquisition process and usage. Both the parents and children can simultaneously speak several languages; even create their own – common – language, as it sometimes occurs in families with twins. The parents of twins sometimes complain that children speak their own language and are not willing to learn neither parents’, nor any other language, in that way demonstrating their identity.

Meanwhile, it is evidence to the human’s innate skill – to create language from nothing. All that is needed, are the participants of conversation, and within couple of generations, a new language can emerge. We should not perceive language as something that belongs to society; the most recent research shows that language is an inalienable part of the body. Since both parents and children are connected not only mentally but also physically, the usage of native language when communicating with child is logical.

Children often express interest towards the language of their parents or grandparents. There are several reasons for that: getting acquainted with peers, acquiring new facts and information, culture and movies, visiting the country of birth, but most of all – the attitude of the parents.

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