Knowing Who You Are: Heritage Language, Identity and Safe Space in a Bilingual Kindergarten

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.21153/tesol2021vol30no1art1581

Keywords:

Australia, Pacific Islanders, Samoan, a’oga amata, kindergarten, immersion, heritage language, safe space

Abstract

Evidence shows that when young children’s diverse language heritages are valued and supported, there are benefits for their linguistic and conceptual development, their sense of identity and their learning. However, there are few early learning settings in Australia which nurture young children’s bilingual repertoires. And, while it is well established that early childhood is a critical period for first and second language acquisition, there is a lack of empirical research available on children’s bilingual development in institutional early childhood education and care. Against this backdrop, our article reports on a study of a bilingual Samoan community kindergarten (a’oga amata) in southeast Queensland. In this paper, we focus on how the a’oga amata supported the maintenance of the children’s heritage language and culture. We explore language use in the a’oga amata, the cultural values underpinning the educators’ practices, and the positive responses of the children and parents in the study. We also examine the constraints on the community leaders and educators’ efforts to create an authentic bilingual experience in this English-dominant environment. Finally, we revisit the notion of safe spaces for young bilingual learners (Conteh & Brock, 2011) and rearticulate the need for clear language policies that support heritage language education.

Author Biographies

Kerry Taylor-Leech, Griffith University, Australia

Kerry Taylor-Leech is an applied sociolinguist attached to Griffith University Institute for Educational Research. She is interested in the relationship between language, identity, and educational opportunity. Her research explores language policy and planning, identity, language, and literacies in linguistically diverse communities. She is currently working with Dr Eseta Tualaulelei on a research project with refugee and asylum seeker families and their perceptions and experiences of early childhood education and care.

Eseta Tualaulelei, University of Southern Queensland, Australia

Eseta Tualaulelei is a senior lecturer with the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland. Her research utilises critical and indigenous approaches to examine the intersections between culture, language and learning. She currently teaches and researches intercultural communication, equity in education and parent-school engagement. Collaborating with educational and community organisations, her research explores avenues to improve the educational experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse learners and their families.

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Published

2021-11-30

How to Cite

Taylor-Leech, K., & Tualaulelei, E. (2021). Knowing Who You Are: Heritage Language, Identity and Safe Space in a Bilingual Kindergarten. TESOL in Context, 30(1), 63–83. https://doi.org/10.21153/tesol2021vol30no1art1581