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