Code-switching and establishing the power of a dominant language. Issues in the lives of multilingual children in Sweden
Abstract: In order to help children develop their mother tongue during preschool years, teachers need to have an understanding of how children perceive the function of their mother tongue in institutional settings. This study aims to explore what communicative function children assign the mother tongue. By listening to children this study allows their voices to be heard. The theoretical starting points are found in the socio-cultural perspectives and in variation theory. They both underpin the environmental and social settings for learning. The socio-cultural perspectives have brought some important understandings of how knowledge is, primarily, shared learning among participants in a setting. Language, from this perspective, is viewed as an individual and collective tool for thinking. The variation theory emphasise the importance of perceiving since how we perceive a phenomenon will affect how we act in different situations. The data represent the voices of eight multilingual children that are about to turn, or have recently turned, 6 years of age. Data regarding the mother tongue were collected by participating in children’s culture and writing field notes. Additionally, interviews were conducted with children, and the field notes were used to facilitate the construction of the interview questions. The results show that children perceive that there are differences with regard to when to use the mother tongue and when to use the majority language. They were allowed to use their mother tongue in various settings, but not in preschool. The children stated that they did use their mother tongue in preschool but that only occurred when the teachers were not around and was associated with feelings of shyness. As for the Swedish language, it was used in all contexts and viewed as vital as a means of being or becoming an active member of Swedish society. Reading and writing skills in the Swedish language were stressed as key factors in educational success. When it came to the importance of speaking the mother tongue, the children pointed to the significance of culture, identity, and communication with others. Another finding was that none of the children had any difficulty speaking about language as an object or having meta-cognitive conversations about it.
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