The benefits of heritage language education (complementary schools) [Transcript]

September 15, 2023

00:00:15 – 00:02:28
Sharon: Welcome to Kletsheads, the podcast about bilingual children. My name is Sharon Unsworth, linguist at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, a mother of two bilingual children. In this episode of Kletsheads, we’re talking about complementary schools or heritage language education. According to the United Nations, education in the mother tongue is a human right. But as we’ll hear in this episode, it’s unfortunately not a right that all children are able to exercise. Layal Husain shares the latest insights from research on the effects of these types of classes. We also hear from another class ahead of the week. This time it’s Sybil. She grew up learning Danish, Portuguese and French. She tells us about losing a language early in her childhood and how annoyed she got learning to read in French after having learned to read in Portuguese. There’s also a final classic quick and Easy. Keep listening. To find out more. 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 heritage, language and cultural identity. Classes take place at the weekend or after children are done for the day with a mainstream schooling and in many cases include not only language but also a cultural and sometimes a religious component. Provision varies from country to country and within countries from town to town. In part because such schools are established and maintained by community members, often on a volunteer basis. They may serve children from preschool right through to adulthood or a more limited age range. And size varies depending on need and financial support. In the previous episode, we spoke to Jessica Nazzaro from the Heritage Language Education Network in Ain’t Over Here in the Netherlands. She explained why parents enroll their children in such a heritage language program.

00:02:28 – 00:02:55
Layal: The most common reasons that parents name for sending their children to heritage language lessons is they want the children to learn to read and write in the home language. They want them to improve their speaking confidence. They want to have them improve their grammar. And of course, they want them to understand the culture and history and geography of the home country. Very importantly, they want them to be able to communicate with family back in the home country like their grandparents and their and their cousins.

00:02:55 – 00:03:34
Sharon: In this episode, we’re going to hear more about the research on heritage, language, education. Do certain types 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 other benefits for parents as well as children? We’re going to find out the answers from Lyell Husain, researcher at the University of East London. Layal, who herself grew up bilingually with English and Arabic, started by telling me more about the situation with respect to complementary schools in the UK where she’s currently based.

00:03:34 – 00:05:39
Layal: Complementary schools have become a quite a big thing now. Our movement, I’d say in the UK for over half a century probably. You obviously have a bit more in cities like London, particularly in areas like East London where there’s been high amounts of immigration, particularly since the mid 1900s, when migrants were kind of arriving in the UK and started setting up these kind of community led complementary schools or supplementary schools, as some people call them. And really how they emerged was because communities weren’t feeling like their needs were being met from mainstream schooling. There were different kind of movements linked to this. So the first kind of types of complementary or supplementary schools were more linked towards English language learning, actually. So and this was largely around kind of the Afro-Caribbean families who migrated into the UK. You still have some of these around the UK. These are more associated with supplementary schooling and more to do with helping in children’s English or helping them settle into the mainstream school curriculum. But then kind of the second group of complementary schools, which is what we hear more about now and what I looked at in my research was around the 1970s, early 1900s, and that was more to do with the teaching of heritage language and supporting kind of language teaching that they didn’t feel they would get in mainstream schooling. And these are kind of the most common type. You do also have there was a movement linked more towards religious complementary schooling, but this isn’t as common as obviously the language teaching, which is what we see around today. There’s a lot of different estimates, but I’d say about 3000 to 5000 complementary schools dispersed really quite unevenly, to be honest, around the UK. Yeah, but we’re getting more and more information on them and a lot of research interests into this as well. Yeah. Yeah.

00:05:39 – 00:05:56
Sharon: And so obviously in this episode we’re going to be talking about those, right? The schools that focus on, on the language, the heritage language, I mean other other schools, for pretty much every language that’s spoken as a heritage language or do we see some more dominant than others or more popular?

00:05:57 – 00:07:27
Layal: I think I mean, I’ve seen such a range within our own project. I looked at five different complementary schools. But I mean, even if I look at the languages that were represented in our sample, it was over 35. In certain areas you do have obviously more predominant communities. So for example, in East London, you have let’s say more Bengali, Tamil, Gujarati communities, for example. So it really depends as well on the history of immigration of of that area. If we look at the recent census as well in the UK, you’d see just a wide range, which is actually quite exciting. In the UK we have quite a lot of linguistic opportunity and and a lot of different types of languages being spoken. But yeah, one of the biggest ones, obviously things like Polish Arabic as well as a growing one, Italian, German. But no, I wouldn’t, I would stress as well you have quite a wide range of, let’s say, what they call community languages. Don’t know what the right word is to say, but it would be languages that you wouldn’t necessarily find being offered in mainstream school curriculum. So an example of this would be, for example, Albanian. They don’t have, for example, unfortunately at any professional, let’s say, A-level or qualification nation. So complementary schools become even more important for languages like that where they’re not getting the support they would get in a mainstream provision.

00:07:27 – 00:08:02
Sharon: I guess in a sense, you know, the the provision is going to depend obviously, on the communities that and the languages that they speak and the extent to which the members of those communities want to, you know, invest their time and energy in something like this, because that’s often what it comes down to. But we’ll we’ll maybe talk about that a bit later. Do so. That’s a sketch of the situation right now in the in the UK. Um do we see many differences across heritage language programmes and in different countries?

00:08:03 – 00:09:45
Layal: I think you definitely see kind of some similarities with what we see in other countries and heritage language education in the UK. But I would say the context is really what differs here. So. In the UK, we have some kind of, let’s say, political and social conditions that really make make things different. There’s obviously been an incredible amount of research that’s emerged. I think early research was more around settings like the US and Canada, particularly heritage language education in Spanish, for example. But I think government support can really vary and that’s where the difference really lies. So in the United Kingdom, when we look at heritage education and particularly the research that has emerged from that, we see similar things in terms of the positive benefits linked to that, but the kind of extent of the support and how these operates are vastly different. So think these settings can often be under-recognized around the world, but particularly particularly in the UK, think they’re quite vulnerable. We don’t have funding for these settings. They’re incredibly under-recognized. So that makes it quite difficult for us to ascertain what exactly is happening. These settings can can vary as well quite a lot. So that’s, I think the main difference. But overwhelmingly, obviously the growing research has shown the positive benefits of these programmes and that’s what we’ve seen also in the kind of their links to children’s social development, their educational development as well, how they integrate into society. We’ve seen similar findings in that as well. Yeah.

00:09:45 – 00:11:02
Sharon: Yeah. We’ll get to those in a minute, of course. So but I think that’s actually an important point as well, that the you know, we’re going to talk in a moment about what exactly such a programme looks like. And then, like you said, some of the benefits that have been found in the research looking at children in these programmes. But of course, they’re very practical aspects of how much how much cash have you got right? How much support do you get out? To what extent you facilitated by your local council, government, whatever. And that’s also really a key factor and that can obviously differ across countries and I guess as well within countries quite, quite frankly, depending on how the countries are organised in these terms. So what does heritage language education at these schools then look like for parents who might be listening or teachers listening and thinking, okay, I’ve got a kid in my school who goes to this What what what are they likely to be doing? Or parents thinking, oh, maybe we should send our kids to heritage, language, education, complementary schools. What might they expect? What might they find there?

00:11:03 – 00:13:37
Layal: Yeah, I think I mean, again, they can vary widely, but I think it’s great to point out that there there are much more than just educational spaces. So obviously their main purpose is to support children’s heritage language learning, but they often do this through very creative ways. They’ll link a lot of the language learning going on to cultural activities as well. And the way I kind of put it across in my own research on my PhD is they really act as kind of community centres. They like to link people together. It’s really becomes quite a personal social thing. Parents are able to connect with other people in the community and children as well with their peers and the UK particularly, especially after the pandemic. I think a lot of these schools are often relying on small, small fees from kind of parents to offset their expenses. Usually they rely on volunteering staff with teachers, often being members of the community, some having overseas or qualifications or various teaching experience. And they’re not largely kind of acknowledged by local authorities. And they’re renting premises, for example, because, you know, they’re not considered the state’s responsibility. But with that said, they do have massive contributions to, I’d say, children’s education. We know, for example, there’s also guidance for these settings. So if you’re based in the UK, I’d recommend sort of the national resources for Supplementary National Resource Centre, sorry, for supplementary education. So they offer a lot of training for these settings, a lot of quality assurance as well to make sure they’re operating in a safe and great way. But often I’d like to stress as well the reason why they’re such great assets as well to, you know, children wanting to learn their heritage languages, because often teachers will be able to recognise the backgrounds. These children’s are coming these children are coming from. They’ll make use of their kind of different languages in the classroom. So they’re able to kind of engage children into this and keep them interested. Had largely mean not a journalist but think that’s what they’re good at is making heritage language, learning interesting and giving them a space to kind of safely explore their identities and languages outside of school, especially if they’re not able to get that kind of in their mainstream primary or secondary school.

00:13:37 – 00:14:00
Sharon: Which is often, unfortunately, often, often the case. And the other like I know, you know, it’s I think we’re going to say this several times in this episode. It’s hard to generalize, right, because there is so much variation. So, you know, what we say isn’t going to hold for every single supplementary complementary school out there. Um, but to what extent do they work with specific curricula then?

00:14:00 – 00:15:14
Layal: Yeah. I mean, in our own research we found that yes, they tend to follow, they, they think of themselves as sort of operating in the same way a school would. So they would have, you know, the same sort of structure curriculum as well. Sometimes they’ll do their own books. And like you said, it also depends on the type of support they’re getting. So some of the schools we worked with, yes, we’re getting that support from embassies, for example. So that makes things a lot easier in terms of the books, curriculum and support they were they were getting. But yes, largely they will follow a set curriculum. But in my experience, they’re also quite creative and innovative, tend to be flexible because they’re aware that the children coming to these schools are also not your typical, let’s say, um, especially if they’re, let’s say, second generation bilinguals, which is usually the case with complementary schools. That’s where I feel they become a bit more innovative in their teaching practice because they integrate a lot of what the students are learning in their mainstream schools, for example, to try and make it relevant and interesting. But definitely I’ve found they follow set curriculum, uh, based on the other communities.

00:15:14 – 00:15:27
Sharon: So what did the language practices look like in complementary schools? Is it essentially monolingual education in the heritage language, or can we better think of it as a kind of bilingual education?

00:15:27 – 00:17:33
Layal: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it can largely be dependent on obviously the communities attending these settings, particularly if they’re, for example, first or second generation bilingual learners. In my experience and particularly we know in the UK, uh, English or the host or majority language is still largely spoken in these classrooms, but it’s kind of used in a flexible and useful way to help help them learn the heritage language. Um, there are studies that have kind of looked at the kind of language practices in these classrooms. They’ve shown that children tend to code switch quite a lot. Or you might have heard the term translanguaging, for example. Um, and yeah, they found that this is obviously quite, quite useful for these children. They’re able to use a range of kind of their linguistic resources and a flexible way in these classrooms. With that said, though, there is a challenge in these schools where sometimes, uh, kind of certain standards of the language are being considered more superior than other dialects, for example. So that’s something to be worth. That’s something worth considering. But largely research has shown that complementary teachers particularly tend to understand, um, kind of the, the background students are coming from and make the most of, of this in their own teaching, whether that’s using kind of their, their different languages, different cultural life worlds, building strong relationships with them, responding flexibly to their needs, whether that be introducing concepts sometimes in English, sometimes in the heritage language and drawing on their different kind of knowledge to explore concepts and skills. Also linked to the mainstream mainstream school curriculum. I think complementary schools tend to have quite a good understanding of the mainstream mainstream school curriculum, and they used us, um, to, to kind of get children’s interests in the heritage language, but also help them kind of become more proficient in the heritage language.

00:17:34 – 00:21:26
Sharon: Which makes total sense, right? I mean, if you want to get kids interested in something, you better start with where they’re at and their world right now, especially, I guess because we haven’t spoken about that yet. If you want to get them enthusiastic about going to school on a Saturday or Sunday. Right? Because I can imagine some kids are like, really? We’re going to leave our conversation with Lionel now to listen to this episode’s quick and easy concrete tip you can put into practice straight away to make the most out of the bilingualism in your family, class or clinic, Colette said. Quick and easy. Many bilingual children. Read or are learning to read in the heritage language. Some find this easier than others. Attending heritage language classes can certainly help with this, but sometimes, for whatever reason, this isn’t an option. If you want your child to read in his or her heritage language, it helps if you can make sure it’s necessary to do so. We’ve often talked in the podcast about the need to create speaking opportunities for children in their heritage or home language. So authentic moments when they need to use that language to get something done. Reading is no different. Cleats Head’s quick and easy for today. Again taken from the Peach Project helps you to do just this. Create a reading problem which your child will want to solve. For example, you could write them a note and put it in the lunch box or beauty box, as we call it, in the north of England. In and of itself, this is perhaps not a problem that they have to solve, but they will no doubt be extremely curious to know what you’ve written and this will hopefully motivate them to actually read the note. Of course, some children will enjoy getting a letter like this at school more than others. If your child is one of the others, that’s certainly the case for my two. You can adopt the same approach at a different time or in a different place. You could, for example, write a letter and leave it on the table when they come home from school with instructions about some yummy snack that you’ve hid in somewhere, or leave a note under the pillow before they go to sleep with a cute or funny message. Another thing that you could do is to enlist help from the grandparents. Ask grandma or granddad to send a postcard or an email or an app, preferably with some request of some kind so that the message does indeed require a response. In many cases, grandparents don’t know or understand the grandchild or the language, the language that they use at school. So it’s in a certain sense in their own interests to help you out, to get your child to learn and use and read in the heritage language more often. Another option, if, for example, you need to look something up on the Internet would be to ask your child to do this in the heritage language there too. Some children will enjoy doing this more than others, but if you keep it lighthearted, choose a topic that they find interest in themselves. Help them if they find it difficult. This can be a great way to encourage reading in the other language. So then I said quick and easy for today is to create a reading problem that your child will want to solve. Colette Z’s quick and easy. All right. So we’ve spoken about what the schools are, what they involve and what the actual the education, the language practices might look like when you when you get there. But what do we know from research about the effects of attending complementary schools, heritage, language, education on children’s language development? I think that’s why a lot of parents send their children to such schools. Does it work?

00:21:27 – 00:23:44
Layal: Yeah, definitely. I think I mean, in our own research we found children that we compared children that attended complementary schooling to those that didn’t. We found that those that attended complementary schooling reported higher heritage language proficiency, but this was the most noticeable in literacy. So reading and writing and their heritage language, and that’s what a lot of previous research has also shown, that these schools really help, particularly with that, particularly during the pandemic, which some of my research was done during the pandemic, We found that complementary schools offered a really good kind of protective factor, let’s say, for heritage language loss. So compared to students who weren’t attending these settings, a lot of them are reported a lot less proficiency in their heritage language. But those that continued to attend complementary language schooling, even if that was online, kind of preserved a lot of their heritage language proficiency. This is largely in part, obviously because of the extra teaching they’re getting, but also a lot to do with the peer relationships within these schools and the larger community. They have more opportunities for exposure to the language, but importantly opportunities to practice the language, whether that be through activities, relationships in the classroom. And yeah, that we found even in our research, it’s not necessarily children that attends these schools aren’t necessarily getting this exposure at home. So parents are really going to these settings to get that extra exposure and support. And they they do get it. And it does tend to be yeah, quite effective in helping maintain a heritage language. With that said, research has also shown as children get older, it becomes increasingly more difficult to kind of maintain this proficiency. So that’s where complementary schools, even in our project, have said they struggle more as kind of the demands of the mainstream school curriculum become bigger, particularly in the UK and secondary school, things like GCSE and A-levels take over and then English becomes, you know, more and more the dominant language. So it’s definitely still a challenge, won’t undermine that. But I think complementary schools are a great asset towards trying to overcome this challenge. Yeah.

00:23:44 – 00:24:05
Sharon: So if you’re listening as a parent and, you know, experiencing some challenges or struggles with the heritage language development of your child, or you’re wondering about how if you can teach them to read and write, then heritage language education would be a great tool. And your toolbox, right? Definitely.

00:24:05 – 00:24:06
Layal: Yeah, definitely.

00:24:06 – 00:25:03
Sharon: Yeah. And I think if you want to know more about what setting up such a programme involves, right, because you know, you might be interested, but there may not exist a school near to where you live, wherever that might be. Then listening to the episode that we just heard a clip with Jessie, then she also talks about what what’s involved in actually setting up such a program as a parent, which is something that she did. And we’re going to hear another clip now from a previous episode when I spoke to the 19 year old Thorwen who attended Dutch Complementary School in Hong Kong. And here’s what he had to say about his experience. I know you followed Dutch education abroad, like heritage language schools, it’s often called, or community language schools where you you go to classes in a language that’s not the majority or the school language in the place where you live. What what was that like?

00:25:03 – 00:25:34
Thorwen: My primary school years, I actually went to a physical school on the other side of Hong Kong from where I live, and I’d go there every Wednesday after my, you could say English school, my English classes, and I’d have class for about two hours. I don’t remember the time. This is a way of sort of bringing a lot of Dutch people together in one place, right? A lot of Dutch families from Hong Kong would send their kids here. And this is where we’d almost this is where we don’t meet up. We’d have discussions, we’d have fun, all that sort of stuff. Obviously, seven year old me didn’t enjoy it so much. I’d rather be at home playing video games. But yeah.

00:25:34 – 00:25:40
Sharon: I have a seven year old at home who would probably agree with you if I tried to send him to English class.

00:25:40 – 00:26:03
Thorwen: But I had a deal with my parents that every Wednesday because we went to Dutch school as sort of compensation as our reward, we’d have a pancake day for so we’d have pancakes for dinner. And that tradition is still stands today, even though I’m not a Dutch school and none of my brothers and sisters are Dutch school, every Wednesday is still Pancake day. Oh, yeah. In our house. That’s. Yeah, that’s a fun. About us.

00:26:03 – 00:26:23
Sharon: Yeah, that’s nice. There are lots of multilingual children and young adults like yourself growing up here in the Netherlands who speak a different language than Dutch at home. And some of them do attend these heritage language schools, though they’re not always considered that beneficial, I think. How do you feel about that when you hear that?

00:26:23 – 00:27:52
Thorwen: For one, I think there are multiple benefits. Firstly, it does keep you sort of up to date. It does keep you sort of linked to your home country. So, for example, we we wouldn’t just learn Dutch in these schools. You’d also have discussions about what’s happening in the Netherlands. It maintains that link a bit in Hong Kong. I know there’s also parents who are Dutch and kids who don’t speak any Dutch at all. They have very little to no interest in the Netherlands. They don’t view themselves as Dutch anymore. The second reason that my parents would always tell me is, is always that with that aim of when I grew older, when I was 18, 19, like now, I would have the opportunity to study in the Netherlands. And knowing Dutch when you come back, it is just it’s beneficial because I mean, when you live here, everyone does speak English except I think you are missing out a bit if you don’t speak Dutch. And I do find, you know, when I compare myself to some of my international friends here, when we are meeting new Dutch people, for example, or we are in a Dutch more Dutch community, it’s a lot easier for me to sort of join that group and become a part of that group than it is for some of my international friends because my friends, they don’t speak Dutch. Yeah. So I think another it just it helps you keep your option open and in the sense that it helps maintain that link to your home country. And it maintains that option that your child can go back to your home country and have an almost native experience alongside the international experience they’ve already had.

00:27:52 – 00:28:07
Sharon: Yeah, and even even I guess if you’re not intending or there’s not even an option or an interest for, you know, a child to go to the other country when they’re older to study or to work or anything like that. There’s also the question of being able to talk to.

00:28:07 – 00:28:08
Thorwen: You, to your.

00:28:08 – 00:28:39
Sharon: Family, to your grandparents, because often they won’t speak the new language that you’re learning. So Taiwan was pretty positive then about his experience following Dutch language education in Hong Kong. At least looking back, it sounded like at the time he did need a bit of persuading to attend. And I joke before about kids Do they want to go to school on a Saturday or Sunday? And do we know anything from research about how children themselves feel about the heritage, language, education?

00:28:40 – 00:30:59
Layal: Yeah, and our own research, we found that the children attending these settings, when we ask them, felt very largely positive about them. They felt it significantly contributed to their language learning and they’ve made, you know, good friendships there. But by all means, sometimes I think other research has shown that children can sometimes see this as a chore. I think in the interviews I had with complementary school staff as well, um, that’s a main kind of objective for them is making sure that children want to and find it interesting to attend these classes. So I think that is important to highlight that children have to want to go to the these classes and find them interesting. But I think usually the way these schools are set up, how they’re kind of linked to more cultural learning, bringing new cultural elements into the child’s life, you know, helping them be more confident as well in general and in other things. So we looked at things like social competence, for example. We know that, yeah, that it is it isn’t necessarily this like dreaded school thing. They have to go in the weekends. Actually, it can be quite fun. It can be very social. Interesting new thing that’s quite different to what they do in mainstream school, but definitely think there needs to be more research that looks at children’s perspectives. I looked at that a bit in my own research, but often, yeah, we look at more of the parents teachers perspective, so it’d be great to have more research that looks into children’s own perspectives, particularly, you know, from different generations. Yeah, but yeah, it’s great to also hear positive experiences like, like what you just showed from the clip. We know that, yeah, these schools are quite complex sites for children to navigate their identities. But yeah, the, in our own research we found it really positively influence kind of ethnic identity formation. They felt much more positively about both their British and ethnic identities. It helped them integrate better into society overall. And that’s what the overall research shows, is that, um, that, you know, developing obviously your heritage languages tends to obviously also be quite linked to your cultural identity and identity formation.

00:30:59 – 00:31:08
Sharon: You said you found advantages for social competence. I’m not sure everybody will know. I’m not sure. Really know what that means. What do you. Can you unpack that a bit for us?

00:31:09 – 00:32:45
Layal: Yeah, of course. So basically what we were looking at was how children also felt about themselves. So sometimes that’s also linked to things like self-esteem, for example. But we are looking at much younger children in our project. And yeah, it’s kind of we looked at perceived competencies, so how they kind of feel in social situations. We also looked at cognitive competence, at athletic competence. So really what they feel about themselves in all these different areas and what we found is, particularly during the pandemic, children who are attending complementary schools didn’t really show any dip or as significant of a change at all really in their social perceived social competence. And they scored much higher in their perceived social competence. And we obviously don’t know entirely the factors around this, but we can kind of assume this might be linked to the wider community they had access to at this time. A lot of them were still obviously attending complementary schooling. Some of it also switched largely online, but that still meant they had this kind of consistent access to a wider community, to wider support, particularly, again, going back to this important factor of peer interactions and having these, you know, friends that might share also similar, obviously the same languages, them or identities and experiences as. So I think that’s a very important factor alongside the benefits you see with maintaining a heritage language.

00:32:45 – 00:32:48
Sharon: How old were the children in your study?

00:32:48 – 00:33:36
Layal: We started off with children between the ages of 4 to 9, and then by the time we finished our project, the oldest was 12. So really primary school age children. Yeah, but the youngest was four, actually. Okay. Yeah, great. One thing maybe that’s worth noting in our research, but also in others heritage, language, proficiency and exposure is often linked to socioeconomic status or family affluence. You might have heard that word. So really what that means, if you know, with more affluence that might be linked to more opportunities to learn the language. So that is also an important factor to consider why, you know, some children might be getting more interactions than others.

00:33:36 – 00:33:55
Sharon: And by that do you mean that the children attending heritage language education are likely to be from more affluent families? Or do you mean that heritage language education might offer children from less affluent backgrounds opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have?

00:33:56 – 00:34:42
Layal: Yeah, I think it’s an important question because that’s what I ended up really posing as well in my own research, because we found initially that actually, yes, the complimentary school attendees were more affluent then non attendees. But then when we also factored this in, you know, to our findings, we still were finding the positive effects of, you know, complimentary school attendance. So it’s not, you know, that because they’re affluent, that’s why they’re getting these benefits do have a lot of complimentary schools that, um, do, you know, offer a lot of free classes for example. And yeah, you’ll get different communities. But in our project anyway, they were more affluent and that’s worth considering as an important factor.

00:34:42 – 00:35:55
Sharon: I think that is an important point that there are other factors at play in this and the research is done with certain groups and it maybe doesn’t cover all different options. And there is this question of, you know, if you have to pay for something and I’m guessing most of you said some of it is some schools offer free provision. But I can imagine for for many there is some payment involved and this might not get priority if you don’t have that much income at your disposal. But I think it’s interesting to note, like you just said, that if you, as we say in the research, if you control for this particular aspect, so you basically take away any possible effect of the the affluence level, right. Of the families, we still see that positive effects of complimentary schooling. Yeah. So that’s really key. In a moment, we’ll talk to Layal about the effects of complementary schools on parents and about the potential role that teachers in mainstream schools can have in supporting heritage language education. But first, we hear from our heads of the week. Kletshead of the week.

00:36:00 – 00:36:11
Sybil: I’m Sybil. I’m 25 and I’m currently living in Amsterdam and I speak French, Portuguese and English.

00:36:11 – 00:36:27
Sharon: So you were raised bilingual and presumably not in the Netherlands, given that you don’t. Dutch was not one of those languages that you just listed. So can you tell me about the languages that you heard when you were growing up and who you speak each language with?

00:36:28 – 00:37:00
Sybil: Yeah. So, um, I spent my first four years in Denmark, so, um, up to that time, I mostly spoke Danish. Uh huh, uh, although we would also speak French at home. And then, um, we moved to Portugal and I started to speak Portuguese then. And I kept speaking French and I eventually forgot all of my Danish.

00:37:00 – 00:37:09
Sharon: So Danish and Portuguese were the languages that you learn at school, I guess, or a daycare or outside the home? What’s the home situation like?

00:37:09 – 00:37:48
Sybil: So my mom is Portuguese, Um, although she also she grew up in Venezuela, so she also speaks Spanish. And I, um, I can have conversations in Spanish, but I wouldn’t say that I’m, um, I don’t have the same level as I do in French or Portuguese. And but she also speaks French, and my dad is French, so they would speak French to each other. And so then when I moved to Portugal, I guess there was kind of a switch and I started to speak Portuguese at home with my mom and friends with my dad and then also Portuguese at school.

00:37:49 – 00:37:58
Sharon: And what what was going on at home then when you were in Denmark. So like in the first four years of your life, did your mom speak French or Portuguese with you or both?

00:37:59 – 00:38:21
Sybil: Both. Yeah, but I think. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t respond to her if she spoke to me in French. So at some point she decided to switch entirely to Portuguese with me. But that was, um. I think I was already two or something like that. Uh huh, uh huh.

00:38:21 – 00:38:23
Sharon: Do you. Do you remember?

00:38:23 – 00:38:37
Sybil: No, not at all. I know that when we left, um, if I was left alone to play with my toys or something, I would speak Danish, and my parents couldn’t understand it.

00:38:38 – 00:38:40
Sharon: Yeah. Yeah. Have you got brothers or sisters?

00:38:41 – 00:38:50
Sybil: Yeah, I have a brother. But he was two months old when we. When we moved, so he’s had a completely different experience, I would say. Oh, yeah?

00:38:50 – 00:38:53
Sharon: What languages do you speak or speak with him?

00:38:53 – 00:39:10
Sybil: Yeah. So we speak Portuguese. Um, and then, uh, it’s funny because I speak French to my dad and Portuguese to my mom, and then my brother will speak Portuguese to both, even though my dad speaks in French to him.

00:39:10 – 00:39:25
Sharon: Yeah, Yeah. That’s a bit about how you grew up. What about now? Because now you’re living in the Netherlands, right? Where you’ve come to do your studies. Um, English language study. How what languages are you using now?

00:39:26 – 00:40:20
Sybil: Um, so mostly English, I guess I understand Dutch to some extent, but I can’t speak. Um, but now I. Well, I have a pet, and I speak to him in Portuguese. Um, and that’s, um, about as much Portuguese. I speak daily, I guess. Yeah. I don’t really have, um, friends here with whom I speak Portuguese. Yeah. And French. I, I use it. Um. Sometimes with my family if we call, for example. Yeah. Um, no, I’m about to leave two friends, so the picture is, um, is going to change a little bit. I’m gonna start using it daily.

00:40:20 – 00:40:25
Sharon: So are you going to. You’re moving to France? Yeah. Okay. So to do.

00:40:26 – 00:40:38
Sybil: I’m quite excited. Um, I’m going to continue my studies there, um, at university and, um, I’m going to be working with sign languages over there.

00:40:39 – 00:40:58
Sharon: Uh huh, So another language. Yeah. Yeah. And what about Spanish then? Because you said you introduce yourself and you said, you know, I speak French, Portuguese and English, and then you just dropped in there. Oh, yeah. Speaking of Spanish, you know, I can have a conversation. So what? How come?

00:40:59 – 00:41:29
Sybil: Um. I don’t know. I think I must have heard my. My mom speaking Spanish to her relatives. Yeah, And I do remember when I was a little older. So after I was four or something, I remember playing with my toys in Spanish at some point. Um, and I can understand and read and have conversations, but, uh. I don’t really know what my relation is to the language.

00:41:29 – 00:41:41
Sharon: Yeah. Do you think having French and Portuguese has helped you with that? Oh, yeah. They’re so related. Yeah. Yeah. What does it mean to you to be multilingual?

00:41:41 – 00:42:13
Sybil: I think, well, I have roots in several places, I guess. And it also helps me connect with people from a lot of different corners in the world. And, um, yeah, I think from a young age I was super interested in other languages as well and how different they were and how similar they were. Um, so I think it kind of instilled me, um, a little passion for languages and traveling as well. Yeah.

00:42:13 – 00:42:18
Sharon: Yeah. Would you say that’s the biggest advantage of being bilingual?

00:42:19 – 00:42:44
Sybil: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah. You can communicate with more people. I would say there’s something I really like about being bilingual is the fact that I can understand humor and several languages. Um. But again, then humor is also not really translatable. So that would be a downside of it.

00:42:44 – 00:42:49
Sharon: Yeah. And are you funnier in one of your languages?

00:42:50 – 00:42:52
Sybil: Oh, I think it depends on the day.

00:42:54 – 00:42:58
Sharon: And do you see any disadvantages to being multilingual?

00:42:59 – 00:43:35
Sybil: Um, I think it can. Um. Kind of affect yourself, your sense of identity? I would say probably, especially if, for example, you grew up in Europe, where we often associate our identity to the language, the language we speak for kids. It can be a bit hard to understand why they speak so many languages, but I would say it brings a lot of richness into your life as well.

00:43:35 – 00:43:42
Sharon: Yeah, And what about the issues that you just mentioned with identities? That’s something that you found yourself. Yeah.

00:43:43 – 00:44:20
Sybil: For example, as a kid especially, I found it quite hard to well, first to move to Portugal. But the fact that I forgot all of my Danish, but I still had some memories with friends from Denmark. Yeah, that made it quite hard, I think, to really understand who I was as a kid because even at school I wasn’t really I mean, I am Portuguese, but I wasn’t really quite like the other kids, I guess. Yeah. But I couldn’t really access that past life of mine, if I can call it that way.

00:44:20 – 00:44:28
Sharon: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting that. Right. Have you ever tried to learn Portuguese? Not Portuguese. Danish since I.

00:44:28 – 00:45:31
Sybil: Have, um, I’ve always quite hoped that I would go back to to Denmark for one month, and maybe I would just suddenly remember everything. Yeah. So I’ve tried learning it with online apps, and sometimes I guess it’s flashbacks where I just remember some expressions and I never really went through with learning it again or um, but I do feel like I’ve had experiences where I was studying a new language and there were some sounds in common that don’t exist in either French or approaches, and I could produce these sounds and they were also present in Danish. Aha. And I think it I don’t know, maybe this is totally wrong, but I do think on some level kind of helped me understand that to some. To some extent.

00:45:31 – 00:45:37
Sharon: Yeah, quite possibly, yeah. So I’m guessing you don’t have children of your own?

00:45:37 – 00:45:38
Sybil: No, not yet.

00:45:38 – 00:45:46
Sharon: Not yet. So imagine if you were to have children, what language languages do you think you would speak to them and have you ever thought about that?

00:45:47 – 00:45:56
Sybil: Um, I would try to go for, um, Portuguese. French and English. Yeah, depending on where I also have them.

00:45:56 – 00:45:57
Sharon: Yeah.

00:45:57 – 00:46:21
Sybil: Um, yeah, but I think I would definitely try to, to do it. I don’t know if I would, um, switch, for example, on a weekly basis or just use the languages for different things or make them watch shows or maybe read to them in a specific language. But I would definitely try. Yes. Yeah.

00:46:22 – 00:46:33
Sharon: Well, guess you’ve got a while to think about it. If and when it happens. Have you got a favourite word in any of your languages? I can speak some French. I can’t speak Portuguese.

00:46:35 – 00:46:41
Sybil: Then I should go for Portuguese. Yeah. Um, a favorite words.

00:46:41 – 00:47:06
Sharon: Or words that you think you know. That’s a word I always use in Portuguese. You know, I’m sure you know, in Dutch, everybody always says, which means gets translated as cozy. I suppose it’s a bit like Danish hookah, right? Uh, people say it’s untranslatable or it’s something that you always fall back in, even when you speak in a different language. You always say that word in Dutch. So anything like that in Portuguese?

00:47:07 – 00:48:15
Sybil: Uh, we do have such a word. I would say we have the word saudade, Um, which you might have heard a song that goes so bad so that, um, and this means the, the act of longing for, for someone or something, but in a nostalgic, melancholic way. Uh huh. Um, and it’s funny because. So this this word is said to only exist in Portuguese. And it comes from a Latin word, which meant solitude. So there’s a lot of more of the negative connotations to the feeling of missing someone or something or a certain period of your life. It’s more than nostalgia. And. And it’s more than longing. And it’s present in all of our literature and poetry as well. So the.

00:48:25 – 00:48:30
Sharon: Okay. To understand the Portuguese, you need to understand what was it so that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

00:48:30 – 00:48:32
Sybil: I would say so. Yeah.

00:48:32 – 00:48:36
Sharon: And have you got a really difficult word to pronounce in Portuguese?

00:48:37 – 00:48:43
Sybil: I do. It’s a very long one. I think that’s why it’s so hard.

00:48:43 – 00:48:44
Sharon: Give it to me.

00:48:45 – 00:48:48
Sybil: Um. [Portugese word]

00:48:48 – 00:48:48
Speaker 8: Okay.

00:48:48 – 00:48:58
Sharon: Do it slowly. [Portugese word] . What does that mean?

00:48:58 – 00:49:04
Sybil: Very good. It’s a type of medical specialization.

00:49:05 – 00:49:17
Sybil: Um, but it’s the word that most kids struggle with, uh, in primary school, you know, like, Oh, I know. Really difficult.

00:49:19 – 00:49:28
Sharon: So can you. You can read then in all your languages, I guess, because you already said you could read in Portuguese and then what about French? How did you learn to read in French?

00:49:28 – 00:50:19
Sybil: So regarding French, um. After I learned how to read Portuguese, I kind of picked French on my own like I was. I don’t know. I started looking at books and I could make out. Well, I guess I self taught myself how to read. Um. And then in school I also took three years of French. And then at university I took some courses that were taught in French. So that kind of helped me consolidate my reading knowledge. I do remember at first it was harder to read in French. Of course, because I had already had so many years of reading it. Yeah. Yes.

00:50:20 – 00:50:25
Sharon: Can you remember what you found hard about it? Was it too long ago now?

00:50:26 – 00:51:15
Sybil: Well, I remember this specific instance where, for instance, you have the word shinra. Uh, which means Chinese. And it’s written. It has a really weird spelling. Actually. It’s a c h i n o. S. And I remember turning to my dad and being like, Does this mean China? How come? And, um, all of these. Weird letter combinations really struck me at first. They used to make fun of my dad for for writing like this as well. Uh, I really did not understand why it had to be so complex.

00:51:16 – 00:51:26
Sharon: Yeah. So I guess Portuguese is pretty. The transparent, right? The link between the the letters and the sounds is pretty one on one. Right?

00:51:26 – 00:51:35
Sybil: It is more. You know how people say that Spanish is really transparent. I would say Portuguese is halfway between French and Spanish.

00:51:37 – 00:51:53
Sybil: You don’t have any silent letters or um. Or letters that are read in a completely unintuitive way. Yeah, we do have letters with multiple possible sounds, I would say.

00:51:53 – 00:51:57
Sharon: So there’s no equivalent of the the is at the end of…

00:51:58 – 00:51:58
Sybil: No.

00:51:58 – 00:52:10
Sharon: In Portuguese and of course in English is just full of uh, things like that as well. Just one, one last question before we stop. So which language or languages do you dream in?

00:52:12 – 00:52:25
Sybil: No, actually, I think I remember sometimes having dreamt in a in a language that I don’t even speak. So I think it’s impressive.

00:52:26 – 00:52:26
Sharon: Yeah.

00:52:26 – 00:52:35
Sybil: I don’t know what my brain is doing in those cases, but, um, I think I dream mostly with emotions. Yeah.

00:52:35 – 00:52:39
Sharon: Yeah. You’re not. The first first guest to say something like that, actually.

00:52:39 – 00:52:41
Sybil: Yeah. Um. All right.

00:52:41 – 00:52:58
Sharon: So are you always finished by asking our class ahead of the week to say or to teach me? Actually, thank you and goodbye in one of your languages. So I know a French. So let’s do a let’s do Portuguese. How do you say thank you and goodbye in Portuguese?

00:52:59 – 00:53:06
Sybil: So thank you. In my case, because I’m a woman, I would say obrigado.

00:53:07 – 00:53:07
Sharon: Obrigada.

00:53:09 – 00:53:14
Sybil: Um. And goodbye would be adios for ciao.

00:53:14 – 00:53:20
Sharon: So, Obrigada, Sybil. Adios. Obrigada.

00:53:20 – 00:53:21
Sybil: Adios.

00:53:30 – 00:53:59
Sharon: We’ve spoken a lot about the effects on on children. Right. But what about parents? Right. Because often parents, yeah, they varies. I guess the level to which they’re involved in the heritage, language, education. But for them to it may offer an opportunity to meet with other community members that they might not do otherwise. Do we know anything about benefits for parents then?

00:53:59 – 00:55:22
Layal: Parents are often actively encouraged to get involved in their child’s learning to be a part of the wider community. In some cases, we’ve also seen that they’re given support to help integrate into the country. So that may be through things like English classes or workshops or, you know, support with the mainstream school curriculum. But as I mentioned, particularly in the pandemic, these schools kind of in the UK anyway acted even more as community centres. Some of them offered support even more directly through things like donations and food drives. So it can definitely be a great way for parents to be a part of the community, have a wider support network. As you mentioned, some parents actually would volunteer work with complementary schools, so that offers other benefits, things like employability, for example. Um, and yeah, research has shown that parents tend to report, you know, a positive impact in their lives, that it’s helped them engage more in their child’s learning. It’s allowed them to be a part of a larger linguistic but also cultural community. And these benefits seem to extend even to the wider community. Some research has shown, for example, that this type of schooling has been shown to have a positive effect overall and just the perception of bilingualism in an area. So yeah, definitely has benefits much more than just to the children themselves.

00:55:24 – 00:55:57
Sharon: Okay. And before we wrap things up then, um, I want to switch tack slightly and talk more about mainstream schools actually, because, you know, by definition, obviously complementary schools fall outside mainstream education. Um, in your experience then to what extent are teachers at mainstream schools aware of heritage, language, education and, and what, what do they think of it? I mean, again, you know, we’re generalizing, but, you know, in your experience, what have you found?

00:55:58 – 00:58:35
Layal: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s been more interest definitely in calls to connect these sectors. In our own research, we did interviews with teachers at primary mainstream schools, and I would ask them if they knew of complementary schools. While most of them are not actually all of them might have heard of them at some time. The majority actually were not so aware of how children practice their languages outside of school. Only one of the four schools in our projects actively engaged with complementary schools, and they did this by offering their space for free on Saturdays. Right? But yeah, common theme that kind of emerged was this kind of lack of information schools felt they had on children’s languages and their home lives and what they were doing outside of school. But they did have this kind of desire to to want to be inclusive towards this. Um, and so I think there’s definitely an opportunity to connect them. We know obviously how teachers are often overstretched and their roles, so I wouldn’t suggest that this burden falls on them, but it would be great if schools and teachers could make it more of an intention, let’s say, to find out the languages spoken at home and recognize these languages at school. As you mentioned, if there’s a particular, for example, community that’s that’s widely, you know, attending the school, perhaps reaching out to these parents, whether that be obviously through workshops or open days, um, trying to again recognize what that brings to the school environment. And yeah, I think one of the easiest ways we found, for example, is even hosting a complementary school. So if you know there’s parents that might be interested in this, what they want, you know, your classroom space, for example, on a Saturday or what they want any particular resources or support. It’s just, yeah, making that effort to really find out the backgrounds of your students and, and allowing them to feel comfortable in celebrating, you know, encouraging sorry this multilingualism in your classroom making sure they don’t it’s particularly in the UK, there’s a lot of research that has shown children sometimes feel embarrassed to even mention they go to complementary schools, for example. So just making it, you know, um, more of an open conversation and being curious to what your students are doing with the other languages and how that can be brought into your classroom would be an excellent start, I think, in fostering multilingualism.

00:58:36 – 01:01:31
Sharon: I completely agree. And I hope that this episode with Layal has inspired both teachers and parents listening to explore the options for heritage, language, education or complementary schools in your local area. As I mentioned at the start of the podcast, access to mother tongue Education is considered a human right by the United Nations. But as we heard in today’s episode, we have a long way to go before all children are able to exercise this right. And that’s a shame because, as Layal explained, there are many ways in which heritage language education can be beneficial. It can support bilingual children’s development, not only in their proficiency, in their heritage, language or mother tongue, but also in terms of their identity, as well as having benefits for parents and the wider community. In order for all children to benefit from such advantages, we’d need this form of education to be supported by policy makers and to be taken seriously. Thanks to Layal for taking the time to talk to us today. If you want to know more about heritage, language, education, there are many organizations around the world that can help. Here in the Netherlands, there’s the Heritage Language Education Network. We heard from their director earlier on in the episode. On their website, they have both a directory of complementary schools in the Netherlands, as well as resources for heritage language programs from around the world, and some great materials also on reading in the Heritage language, the topic of our last episode. If you didn’t hear that already, then go back and listen to that one. The Heritage Language Education Network is, as I said, based in the Netherlands. But there’s plenty of information there that’s relevant for people from other countries. And Layal mentioned also the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education in the UK. Links to both are in the show notes. That’s it for this episode. We’ll be back in a month’s time with an episode about bilingualism and dyslexia. And then it’s time for our final episode of the season, which will in fact be the final episode of Flatheads. I’ll tell you more about that next time. Until then. If you want to know more about Flatheads, go to our website at Colette’s Head’s podcast. Org. That’s where you’ll also find more information about this episode. If you want to make sure you don’t miss an episode, subscribe to classes using your favorite podcast app. If you know someone else who might enjoy the podcast, then I’d really appreciate it if you would share it with them. You can do this via the website or in your podcast app. And if you’re on social media, we’d love it if you followed us. Our handle is at heads. Thanks for listening. And until the next time. Or as we say in Dutch, tot de volgende keer.

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