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




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


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.


Metrics Loading ...

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.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). 2016 Census QuickStats: Australia | Queensland Local Government Areas Logan - Code LGA34590 (LGA). Available at: (accessed July 30, 2020).

Australian Government (2018). Children developmentally vulnerable. Retrieved from

Baker, C. (2006). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism (4th ed.). Multilingual Matters.

Benz, V. (2015). Dynamics of bilingual early childhood education: Parental attitudes and institutional realisation. [Doctoral thesis, Macquarie University]. New South Wales.

Benz, V. (2017). Bilingual childcare: Hitches, hurdles and hopes. Multilingual Matters.

Berardi-Wiltshire, A., Whan, C., Maia, M., Nascimento, M., Petrucci, P., Te-Hei, B., & Warren, K. (2019). The challenge of new intercultural maps: Indigenous language revitalization between Brazil and Aotearoa/New Zealand. In S. Brunn & R. Kehrein (Eds.), Handbook of the Changing World Language Map (pp. 1-23). Springer.

Bialystok, E. (2018). Bilingual education for young children: Review of the effects and consequences, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 21(6), 666-679.

Brooker, L. (2011). Taking children seriously? An alternative agenda for research. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(2), 137-149.

Brown, K., & Faster, M. (2019). Language nests on the move: The case of Voro pre-primary education in Estonia. FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education, 5(3), 29-48.

Cannon, J., Kilburn, M., Karoly, L., Mattox, T., Muchow, A., & Buenaventura, M. (2018). Investing early: Taking stock of outcomes and economic returns from early childhood programs. Rand Health Quarterly, 7(4), 6.

Chambers, N. (2015). Language nests as an emergent global phenomenon: Diverse approaches to program development and delivery. The International Journal of Holistic Early Learning and Development, 1, 25-38.

Conteh, J., & Brock, A. (2011). Safe spaces? Sites of bilingualism for young learners in home, school and community. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(3), 347-360.

Commonwealth of Australia. (2015). Australian early development census.

Cook, V. (2002). (Ed). Portraits of the L2 user. Multilingual Matters

Cooper, V. (2014). Children’s developing identity. In M. Reed & W. Rosie (Eds.), A critical companion to early childhood (pp. 281-296). Sage.

Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Multilingual Matters.

del Carpio, K. B. (2020). Let’s create a harmonious and peaceful world through quality bilingual education! Indigenous Tsotsil children and their languages the solution! Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 11(2), 139-144.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2009). Belonging, being & becoming. The early years learning framework for Australia.

Education Council (2019). Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration. Education Services Australia.

European Commission (2018). Council recommendation on high quality early childhood education and care systems. SWD(2018) 173. European Commission.

Fillmore, L. (1991). When learning a second language means losing the first. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 6(3), 323- 346.

García, O., & Li Wei. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Glasgow, A. (2019). Ko toku reo ko toku ia mana: My language, my identity – The Pacific language nest: How language, culture and traditions are supported and promoted for the Pacific communities of the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau in Aotearoa New Zealand [Doctoral thesis, Victoria University]. Wellington.

Gutiérrez, K. D., & Rogoff, B. (2003). Cultural ways of learning: Individual traits or repertoires of practice. Educational Researcher, 32(5), 19-25.

Hickey, T. M., & de Mejía, A.-M. (2014). Immersion education in the early years: A special issue. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 17(2), 131-143.

Hickey, T. M., Lewis, G., & Baker, C. (2014). How deep is your immersion? Policy and practice in Welsh-medium preschools with children from different language backgrounds. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 17(2), 215-234.

Jones Diaz, C., Morgan, L., & Chodkiewicz, A. (2018). Developing early literacies in informal settings: The importance of cultural representation in an Aboriginal playgroup. The International Journal of Early Childhood Education 25(1-2), 29-42.

King, A., & McKay, A. (2007). The bilingual edge: Why, when and how to teach your child a second language. Harper Collins.

Luning, R. J., & Yamauchi, L. A. (2010). The influences of indigenous heritage language education on students and families in a Hawaiian language immersion program. Heritage Language Journal, 7(2), 207-236.

McCaffery, J., & McFall-McCaffery, J. (2010). O tatou o aga’i ifea?/ ‘Oku tau o ki fe?/ Where are we heading? AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 6, 86-121.

McIvor, O., & Anisman, A. (2018). Keeping our languages alive: Strategies for Indigenous language revitalization and maintenance. In Y. Watanabe (Ed.), Handbook of cultural security (pp. 90-109). Edward Elgar Publishing.

McIvor, O., & McCarty, T. (2017). Indigenous bilingual and revitalization-immersion education in Canada and the USA. In O. García, A. Lin & S. May (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education: Bilingual and Multilingual Education (3rd ed., pp. 421-438). Springer.

McIvor, O., & Parker, A. (2016). Back to the future: Recreating natural Indigenous language learning environments through language nest early childhood immersion programs. The International Journal of Holistic Early Learning and Development, 3, 21-35.

McLeod, G., Horwood, L., Boden, J., & Fergusson, D. (2018). Early childhood education and later educational attainment and socioeconomic wellbeing outcomes to age 30. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 53, 257–273.

Ministry of Education. (2021). Annual ECE Census 2019: Fact Sheets. Retrieved from

Montrul, S. (2015). The acquisition of heritage languages. Cambridge University Press.

Ndhlovu, F., & Willoughby, L. (2017). Migration, heritage languages, and changing demographics in Australia. In O. Kagan, M. Carreira & C. Hitchens Chik (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of heritage language education: From innovation to program building (pp. 22-32). Routledge.

Nieto, D. (2009). A brief history of bilingualism in the United States. Perspectives on Urban Education, 6(1), 61-72.

Okura, E. K. (2017). Language nests and language acquisition: An empirical analysis [Doctoral thesis, University of Hawai’i at Manoa].

Peleman, B., Vandenbroeck, M., & Van Avermaet, P. (2020). Early learning opportunities for children at risk of social exclusion. Opening the black box of preschool practice. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 2(1), 21-42.

Reyhner, J. (2010). Indigenous language immersion schools for strong Indigenous identities. Heritage Language Journal, 7(2), 299-313.

Rogoff, B. (2014). Learning by observing and pitching in to family and community endeavors: An orientation. Human Development, 57(2-3), 69-81.

Samu, L., Moewaka Barnes, H., Asiasiga, L., & McCreanor, T. (2019). We are not privileged enough to have that foundation of language: Pasifika young adults share their deep concerns about the decline of their ancestral/heritage languages in Aotearoa New Zealand. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 15(2), 131–139.

Seals, C. (2017). Pasifika Heritage Languages in New Zealand. In O. Kagan, M. Carreira, & C. Hitchens Chik (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of heritage language education: From innovation to program building (pp. 298-312). Routledge.

Slaughter, Y., & Lo Bianco, J. (2017). Language policy and education in Australia. In T. McCarty & S. May (Eds.), Language Policy and Political Issues in Education, (3rd ed., pp. 449-462). Springer International Publishing.

Tagoilelagi, F. (2017). Soso’o le fau i le fau: Exploring what factors contribute to Samoan children’s cultural and language security from the Aoga Amata to Samoan primary bilingual classrooms in Aotearoa/New Zealand [Doctoral thesis, Auckland University of Technology]. Auckland, NZ.

Tangaere, A. (2006). Collaboration and Te Kohanga Reo. Childrenz Issues: Journal of the Children’s Issues Centre, 10(2), 35-37.

Taylor-Leech, K., Tualaulelei, E., & Krajcovicova, M. (2019) Amata lelei a’oga amata (A good start to learning): Project summary report 27 August 2018 - 31 March 2019. Project Report. Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.

Tualaulelei, E., & Taylor-Leech, K. (2020). Building positive identities in a culturally safe space: An ethnographic case study from Queensland, Australia. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education, Published online.

United Nations General Assembly. (1989). United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Va’a, U. (2009). Samoan custom and human rights: An Indigenous view. Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, 40, 237- 250.

Vaioleti, T. (2006). Talanoa research methodology: A developing position on Pacific research. Waikato Journal of Education, 12, 21-34.

van Huizen, T., & Plantenga, J. (2018). Do children benefit from universal early childhood education and care? A meta- analysis of evidence from natural experiments. Economics of Education Review, 66, 206-222,

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes (A. R. Luria, M. Lopez-Morillas, M. Cole & J. V. Wertsch, Trans.). Harvard University Press.




How to Cite

Knowing Who You Are: Heritage Language, Identity and Safe Space in a Bilingual Kindergarten. (2021). TESOL in Context, 30(1), 63-83.
Share |

Similar Articles

1-10 of 89

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.