“Are we doing the right thing?” How Korean immigrant families practise their family language policies in monolingual-focused New Zealand

“Are we doing the right thing?” How Korean immigrant families practise their family language policies in monolingual-focused New Zealand

Jean Kim, Una Cunningham, & Jeanette King
University of Canterbury

ccCC BY 4.0

Cite as: Kim, J., Cunningham, U., & King, J. (2017, December). Are we doing the right thing?” How Korean immigrant families practise their family language policies in monolingual-focused New Zealand.  Paper presented at the Third UC Intergenerational Transmission of Minority Languages Symposium: Challenges and Benefits. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.5669674


This study aims to explore the benefits and challenges of being bilingual in both Korean and English language amongst Korean immigrant families. A recent government report (Office of Ethnic Affairs, 2013) emphasised that English language acquisition by migrant families is important for participation in mainstream society. In contrast to this report, the Office of Ethnic Communities (2016) promotes Heritage and Community Language Celebration Guidelines to encourage immigrants to maintain their languages that may support in language and identity development as well as bring more benefits to society. These differing Government policies create confusion for immigrant families who want their children to be bilingual.
This presentation compares bilingual Korean immigrant family and monolingual of English speaking Korean family in their language practices. The findings show that both the Korean parents and the adolescents believe that an ability to fluently speak two languages helps them to develop a dual identity, and the confidence to positively participate in mainstream society as both Korean and Kiwi. However, a lack of multilingual awareness amongst the majority society may hinder minority language transmission and maintenance in immigrant families.


Great paper Jean – The challenge is developing sustainable situation beyond the first generation of migrants who have the languages themselves In Auckland there is a big enough Korean speaking community on the North Shore to sustain Immersion Early Childhood Education (ECE) and at least one or two bilingual Education classes in primary schools and a Korean programme at at least one Secondary School like Rangitoto College . We strongly believe unless there are opportunities for the use of Kor.ean and other smaller group minority languages and cultures as mediums for education in bilingual programmes the languages will progressively be lost as the 2nd generation born here develops and by the 3rd gone altogether. We also believe on an evidence basis that parent information in the minority languages about the benefits of bilingualism and bilingual education is urgently needed a there is little evidence that teaching and learning a language at school as a subject only, disconnected from the rest of the school and other subjects will be a solution. Dr Margaret Kitchen in the Faculty of Education, University of Auckland has good links into the Auckland Korean community . Ia manuia John & Judy

    Kia ora John and Judy. Thank you so much for your comments and referring a key contact for approaching Korean communities in Auckland! As you mentioned about this, many immigrant families, including Koreans, are still looking for resources that help and support in their family language practices and policies. I wish to disseminate findings from my study as well as from the big umbrella research, the Intergenerational Transmission of Minority Languages project, to wider communities. Findings from this project show that all participants, especially NZ-born adolescents, regret not to maintain their heritage languages. In my study, findings suggest that there is a positive relationship between heritage language maintenance and identity development. Second generation Koreans have developed a dual identity, Korean-Kiwi, and this dual identity supports a feeling of belonging to both a majority and a minority society. This is important for immigrant families to be aware and to encourage families as well as heritage language communities to transmit and maintain their heritage languages to next generations. My journal article about the role of Korean community in heritage language maintenance was accepted from the Journal of Home Language Research (JHLR) and will be published soon. I will contact Dr. Margaret Kitchen and other key contacts in order to help and support heritage language speaking communities with my published journal article and findings from the umbrella research. Once again, many thanks for your feedback and recommendation! Ngā mihi, Jean

      Fa’afetai tele Kim for your feedback questions and comment . We appreciate you taking the time to do so. There are many issues involved in intergenerational transmission.
      The really key issue we are highlighting here is the current day effect of the 4-5 generations plus ( Late 1800s) of Pacific Peoples colonisation by western powers. Especially being told explicitly in schools and colonial institutions and via Foucault’s systems of silencing and diffuse uses of power and control, that our family /community cultures, value , beliefs, aspirations and languages are worth nothing, no use for the modern world, in education, work and outside the family and church. They have no status or prestige among the powerful in society. Education equals English -English equals education, power success and you cannot have Education unless it is in English ONLY . It poses the options only as having to choose one language or the other, never promoting the option of having both through bilingualism and biliteracy.
      Over this time families, individuals, communities and nations have become seriously conflicted about the value and place of family languages. Through hegemony we have internalised these same beliefs and then through hegemonic processes passed them on to each new generation until they have become so deep and internalised they have now often come to be seen as just normal natural widely accepted parts of our own culture these days. We argue that it is this hegemony that actually causes many individuals and families to feel guilt and blame themselves for not being more effective in maintaining and rejuvenating languages and sees the responsibility for doing so almost solely as our own groups problem ( Pacific Languages Framework MPIA research findings 2010; Also our 2010 Alternative Journal 6 article). It also prevents people from from believing , investigating , considering and taking actions base on more recent informed evidence and research about ways in which languages can be maintained and rejuvenated. These evidence informed approaches value bilingualism and bilingual/ bicultural approaches to education and life in society. This is not complete of course as we have managed to establish immersion Pasifika ECE and bilingual Education here in Aotearoa for our children and grandchildren but these numbers remain very small as a percentage (4%) of the total population and for example data is showing that in the beginning of Samoan ECE there were almost 100% total immersion in Samoan units .Today that percentage is under 30% with only 13 units in the country now classified as such.
      SO this is very similar to the situation many indigenous peoples who have been colonised for long periods of history find themselves in. This is the Māori story in Aotearoa NZ almost exactly up until 1972-1987 when the modern Māori language revival /rejuvenation movements foundations were laid down.

      It is very different however from the position where such colonisation has NOT been in force for such long periods of history. Korea and many other Asian and European countries do not have such destructive intergenerational histories and therefore such outcomes. In these settings ethnic language culture and identity have often been strongly intertwined internalised, and remain strong. Even where regional and local dialects and other languages within a nation state have or are still somewhat ignored or even suppressed the identity of the nation uses a dialect , variety or language considered to be inherently proudly representative of the people of the nation.

      Secondly virtually all the papers in this symposium deal with first generation of migrants, the parents . However the longer the families live in NZ and the continuous ongoing contact they have with their original countries /regions , the more the English hegemony processes come into play until in the 2nd and 3rd generation, the children and grandchildren have by them taken on board the hegemony of English only/ world language only language practices. That is why we are very interested in the ways in which other communities are seeking to counter this hegemony in their communities children and grandchildren ( e.g. Catalan)
      Our regards also to the wonderful Sa’ili who certainly is a champion of the Samoan bilingual movement and has done so much to advance the cause among Samoan communities.
      Ia manuia Judy & John