Una Cunningham
Una Cunningham

Associate Professor Una Cunningham is Programme Coordinator for Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, Master of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Postgraduate Diploma in Education endorsed in Teaching and Learning Languages at University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Intergenerational Transmission of Minority Languages in New Zealand project aims to provide data and resources to support parents who are speakers of minority languages to raise their children bilingually in New Zealand. New Zealand has been described as one of the most monolingual English-speaking countries on Earth. Even so, increasing numbers of migrants mean that the number of other languages being spoken in New Zealand has increased to approximately 168.

Data that we commissioned from the 2013 New Zealand census data show there to be wide differences between migrant communities in regarding the degree to which New Zealand-born 13-18 year olds speak the language of their parents, ranging from 10% for teens in Dutch families through to 77% for Korean teens. The sub-project Teenage bilinguals in Christchurch examines the factors behind this difference between languages.

We have collected interview data from 5-7 parent and child (at least 16 years of age) pairs from New Zealand-born young people and their parents who are speakers of Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Chinese or Korean. We have separate interviews with a total of 30 parents and 32 young adults (16-25 years old). We report findings regarding factors that have influenced the linguistic choices and practices of parents and teens throughout the young person’s life. Emerging results indicate that children at an early age (2-3 years of age) were given a lot of power in the decision whether or not to persist with the minority language at home. Nonetheless, the young people we have interviewed, all of whom are able to use their minority language to some extent, are unanimous in advising new parents to raise their children as speakers of the minority language.

While our analysis is continuing, we have observed complex influences on the family's attitudes, beliefs and practices from the immediate and extended family (both in New Zealand and in the country of origin) and the local same-language migrant community in Christchurch.