Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Role of Parental Support and Family Variables in L1 and L2 Vocabulary Development of Japanese Heritage Language Students in the United States

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Role of Parental Support and Family Variables in L1 and L2 Vocabulary Development of Japanese Heritage Language Students in the United States

Article excerpt

Multilingualism in the United States has largely come as a result of the increasing number of foreign-born immigrants, transnational migrants, and their children. Between 2011 and 2015, one in five (21.0%) U.S. citizens over age 5 spoke a language other than English at home (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017, n.p.). In particular, children who grow up in so called minority language families, often referred to as narrowly defined heritage language (HL) speakers (Polinsky & Kagan, 2007; Valdes, 2005), home background speakers (Koshiba & Kurata, 2012), and transnational children (Langager, 2010), have great potential to acquire invaluable linguistic as well as sociocultural capabilities that the majority of the population who only speak English cannot offer. In fact, recent research has suggested that learning multiple languages is associated with positive outcomes in cognitive, academic, and sociocultural terms (e.g., Bialystok, 2007; Hall & Cook, 2012; Norton & Toohey, 2011).

However, HL children who were born in or immigrated at an early age to the United States face the challenge of developing HL skills and ethnocultural identities in a social milieu characterized by extensive exposure to the mainstream language preferred by peers and educational institutions in the host country. Once children reach school age and expand their out-group relations, their first-learned home language gradually weakens and the mainstream language becomes dominant. As a result, many young HL speakers experience a language shift: The phenomenon in which the U.S.-born or early-arrival children's underdeveloped home or first language (L1) is gradually replaced by the subsequently learned English as a second language (L2) (Jia & Aaronson, 2003; Wong Fillmore, 1991, 2000). HL skills are associated with the ability to communicate with family members, a sense of intimacy, ethnocultural pride, and a feeling of connection to the respective ethnic communities. Thus language shift over generations can adversely affect family relations, children's affective and cognitive stability, the cultivation of positive self-images, and the vitality of ethnic communities, which should be a matter of concern for parents, educators, and community leaders (Thomas & Cao, 1999; Wong Fillmore, 2000).

Many minority language parents in the United States are also challenged by a number of domestic as well as social factors in passing on their ethnolinguistic identities to their children. Multilingual parents are generally aware of the benefits associated with the acquisition of HL skills in an English-dominant society, including family connections (Oh & Fuligni, 2009; Takeguchi, 2009), multicultural awareness and broad worldviews (Lao, 2004; Luo & Wiseman, 2000), and career advantages (Park & Sarkar, 2007), but they also worry that the simultaneous acquisition of multiple languages may delay their children's L2 English development and thus eventually hinder their success in mainstream society (King & Fogle, 2006; Lao, 2004; Luo & Wiseman, 2000; Nesteruk, 2010; Sakamoto, 2006). As a result, bilingualism in the United States is often perceived as a desirable but perilous endeavor. Such perceptions may result in reserved attitudes toward HL education or the suspension of attempts to raise bilingual children.

Because the simultaneous acquisition of multiple languages is a lifelong, challenging task, and since it cannot be sustained without support from families and communities, particularly within the L2 Englishdominant environment, the present study explored the role of parental support and selected family variables in the bilingual development of Japanese heritage language (JHL) students, a population narrowly defined as those who use their first-learned Japanese at home and grow up in an English-dominant society. As bilingual outcomes, the study examined JHL high school students' written vocabulary knowledge in L1 Japanese and L2 English1 compared with the native norms. …

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