"I wish my parents had taught me their language."

08.02.2016

Children of immigrants who can no longer speak the language of their parents often find this to be a major deficit. And rightly so, because the unlearned family language can lead to problems in social and emotional development, says Prof. Andrea Schalley, guest researcher at the Centre for General Linguistics (ZAS) in Berlin.

"The preservation of the family language is important, because only it permits children with migration background to maintain intensive social contact with their grandparents, or to learn and experience the culture, from which they originate, from first hand. This is very important for their "identity development".

In scientific terms, psychosocial factors have so far been neglected in language acquisition. What influence does society's attitude to a particular language and culture, for example, or the attitude of immigrants themselves have on children's well-being? So far, it has been mainly the language competence of language learners that has been tracked and measured, but the connection with psychosocial factors has not been systematically investigated.

To change this, Prof. Andrea Schalley and her colleagues Dr. Natalia Gagarina from the Center for General Linguistics and Dr. Susana Eisenchlas are organizing the first conference of a newly founded international network: Social and Affective Factors in Home Language Maintenance and Development. The conference will take place on 12 and 13 February at the Centre for General Linguistics and is organised in cooperation with the home university of Andrea Schalley and Susana Eisenchlas, Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

Multilingualism is a topical issue. Germany has now become one of the largest countries of migration and Australia, which was once considered a typical country of migration, has outstripped it. In Germany, the proportion of the population that does not only speak German in everyday life is growing. For this reason, Germany has to deal with the issue in order to prevent possible problems that could arise from misinformation and false expectations. It is also important, for example, for refugees willing to integrate to maintain the family language, especially if German is not mastered by an adult with sufficient competence.

Multilingualism is not an educational disadvantage. Children can easily acquire several languages without developing language deficits. An additional language is not only an important resource for the child, but also for shaping a modern society in the international economic structure. Nevertheless: For children, contact with German should take place as early as possible, preferably before their 24th month of life. If another language is spoken at home, then regular attendance at a day care centre is important, if possible with German children and with nursery nurses who can promote the child's language skills.

Contact:
Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft
Andrea Schalley, a.schalley@griffith.edu.au Tel. (030) 20 192-504
Natalia Gagarina, gagarina@zas.gwz-berlin.de Tel. (030) 20 192-506