Negotiating new identities through multilingual literacies in family, school and community: Chinese first graders in French immersion in Vancouver, Canada

Danièle Moore

Simon Fraser University, Canada

WS170: Multilingual societies, identities and globalization: rethinking language, migration and identity

The study investigates the academic, social and linguistic adaptation of young multilingual Chinese learners in early French immersion programs in Vancouver. The study is part of a larger project to study literacy development and practices and parents' engagement in language and cultural transmission in multilingual and multicultural contexts. This contribution will focus on a sub-set of 12 families from the larger study, and will present data obtained from interviews and literacy tasks conducted at home with the first grader children in these twelve families, to examine literacy development and multiple investments in language and identity. While parents deeply value the transmission of Chinese languages, script, and culture, they also strongly believe that learning French will empower their children as “true” bilingual Canadians in the larger Anglophone society of British Colombia. Learning French becomes part of the children’s new linguistic and cultural capital, and permits them to gain academic success and to become culturally empowered in their new social environment in Canada. In this sense, French allows the redefinition of boundaries and the renegotiation of learners’ sense of identity and legitimacy in the various and changing contexts of their families, the Chinese and the French schools, and within the larger local Chinese and Canadian communities.

The study employs literacy tasks and in-depth interviews with twelve first and second graders (aged 6 and 7) multilingual Chinese children in an early French immersion program in a highly multilingual and multiethnic urban school in Vancouver. The interviews with children explore their linguistic backgrounds, their language use and preferences, their social networks, and their literacy skills in French, English and Chinese. The literacy tasks are used to trigger conversation around the children’s multilingual literacies, their awareness of writing systems, and their abilities to transfer knowledge from one language to the other. The interviews and tasks revealed high levels of competencies in the three languages, acute awareness of the three writing systems, and strong reading skills in all three languages. Children used their writing skills in their three scripts as material for story construction of selves, as strategic ways to develop multiple and dynamic discourses of identity, to exercise agency and participation in their social groups, and to position themselves in these groups or to mark secretive youth participation.

The presentation will, in particular, explore how multilingual children creatively appropriate Chinese script, English and French for three purposes: [i] to gain voice and expertise, [ii] to mediate their experience of migration and mobility, and [iii] to reconstruct knowledge and negotiate new and multiple identities in their various socio-cultural settings (including both French and Chinese schools, families, local communities, and the larger Anglophone society in Vancouver).

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Multilingual societies, identities and globalization: rethinking language, migration and identity
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 02