The Challenges and Benefits of Maintaining ECE Children's Home Languages in New Zealand

Song, Huan Huan
Jenkin, Chris
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Master of Education
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Auckland University of Technology

With the development of globalisation in the last couple of decades, early childhood centres in Auckland have become more diverse in culture and languages, both with regard to children and their families as well as teachers. Teachers and parents have noticed bilingualism including the benefits of being bilingual and the challenges of maintaining young children’s home languages. This is also noticeable in Early Childhood centres, where an increasing number of children and their families as well as teachers are becoming more culturally diverse, which entails the use of different languages. This gives rise to considering what teachers and parents could do to promote children’s home languages within the increasingly linguistically and culturally diverse educational environment in Aotearoa New Zealand. This study explores the question of the benefits and challenges teachers and parents experience when they try to keep and promote children’s home languages in the multicultural and multilingual education environment in Aotearoa New Zealand. The theoretical perspective in this research was social-cultural theory, which was firstly put forward by Russian psychologist Vygotsky. According to this theory, children’s language development is understood as a sociocultural process which take place through their participation in their own communities and families. This study adopted a qualitative research methodology using semi-structured interview as the main data collection method. Data was collected from eight participants including four qualified early childhood teachers and four Chinese parents from the same centre located in East Auckland. Teacher participants included one monolingual teacher and three bilingual teachers. Semi-structured interviews were designed to explore teachers’ and parents’ perspectives of bilingualism and the challenges they met during their teaching practices. Manual thematic coding was used to analyse the data and six themes were identified which included: the benefits of having bilingual teachers; benefits of being bilingual; cultural identities and belonging; attitudes towards bilingualism; biliteracy teaching; and challenges of keeping home languages. However, teachers found that they did not have clear guidance from the early childhood curriculum on maintaining children’s home languages and parent did not realise that they could also work together with teachers to promote children’s home languages. Most of the literature on bilingualism is international and this research contributes to the domestic studies in this area in Aotearoa New Zealand. This study also contributes to our understanding of the state of bilingual education in early childhood centres in Aotearoa New Zealand and highlights the need to develop clear guidelines to help teachers support bilingual development of children with home languages other than English. This research has also provided a different perspective to understand Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum of Aotearoa New Zealand. This can be useful for the updates of the curriculum. The issue of bilingual teachers using of home languages in the centre also deserves our further research.

Home languages , Early childhood education , Parent and teacher perspectives , Interviews
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