Many bilingual children around the world attend heritage language education. Sometimes called complementary or supplementary schools, heritage language programs or mother tongue education, these schools offer children and young people a safe space where they can develop and maintain their HL and cultural identity. Classes take place at the weekend or after children are done for the day with their mainstream schooling, and in many cases include not only language but also a cultural and sometimes a religious component.  

In this episode we hear more about the research on heritage language education. Do certain types of complementary schools work better than others? What effect does attending these schools have on children’s language development and their cultural identity? What other benefits are there, and are there benefits for parents as well as children?  

Researcher Layal Husein tells us how complementary schools have indeed been found to support bilingual children’s heritage language development, especially when it comes to literacy. They also serve as safe spaces for children to explore their cultural heritage and identity. Complementary schools can also serve as community hubs for parents, and for newcomers, help them navigate their new surroundings.  

In this episode we heard excerpts from two previous episodes of Kletsheads: this interview with Gisi Cannizzarro (starts at 22m17), director of the Heritage Language Education Network, and this interview with Thorwen, who attended complementary school in Dutch whilst living in Hong Kong as a child.   Another useful resource for anyone interested in this topic is the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education in the UK. You can read more about mother tongue education being a human right here.  

Dr. Layal Husein is a researcher the University of East London, UK. She recently completed her PhD on the effects of complementary schools bilingual children’s language and identity. You can read more about this work here (if you have access – unfortunately, like many academic articles, this paper is behind a paywall). Layal grew up bilingually, learning Arabic from her Bahraini father and English from her mother and at school.  

Our Kletshead of the week is the Sybil Vachaudez. She grew up in Denmark and Portugal, learning (and then forgetting) Danish alongside Portuguese, French and English. Curious about the Portuguese music you heard during our conversation? That was Portugal’s 2022 entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, Saudade, Saudade by Maro.  

In this episode, I also share our final Quick and Easy, a concrete tip you can put into practice straightaway to make the most out of the bilingualism in your family, class or practice: create a reading problem that your child will want to solve. Listen to the podcast to find out more!

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