The Impact of the Sociolinguistic Environment on the State Language Proficiency of Children from Ethnic Minorities in a Preschool Educational Institution [PDF]

Dace Markus, Dina Bethere
Liepaja University, Latvia

Abstract: The article discusses the impact of the daily language choice of ethnic minority children on Latvian language skills in a preschool educational institution. The aim of the study is to explore the impact of the daily language choice of ethnic minority children on Latvian language skills in a preschool educational establishment, surveying the children’s parents. Within the project LAMBA (2015–2017), the researchers Olga Ureka, Dace Markus and Anna Vulane adapted a survey elaborated by Sharon Unsworth (Utrecht Bilingual Language Exposure Calculator (UBiLEC): Questionnaire and notes on Completing the Excel file) to Latvian for surveying bilingual parents. Sharon Unsworth has developed this method in Utrecht to use as a survey for parents of bilingual children. The set of questions is included in the survey which is based on the previous experience of educators and linguists in work with children. The questions included are about children’s linguistic surroundings at home, in preschool setting, in other activities and during free time. The answer options included in the tables allow to investigate parents’ opinions about children language comprehension and application quality and frequency, but in the survey tables we can obtain also quantitative data about the use of language and children’s linguistic environment. Employing UBiLEC, an internationally approbated survey adapted to Latvian for parents of bilingual children, the Latvian language skills of ethnic minority children are compared in the preschool groups where children daily use Latvian or Russian. The topicality of the issue is intensified by the requirement, in force from September 1, 2019, that in Class 1 of all ethnic minority schools 50% of learning must take place in the state language; therefore, it is important to make sure that preschool-age children are prepared for learning in Latvian. In recent years, there has been a tendency for the ethnic minority parents to enrol their children not only in the preschool groups taught in Russian, but also in Latvian. Parents’ survey data show that the ethnic minority children who attend a Latvian preschool group are linguistically ready to continue their education in Latvian or bilingually – the same as children with Latvian as their mother tongue, but if Russian is used as a language of instruction, the lack of Latvian sociolinguistic environment becomes a major obstacle for acquisition the necessary Latvian language proficiency. This research was done in National Research Programme “Latvian Language” Nr. VPP-IZM-2018/2-0002.
Keywords: Latvian language, minorities, parents` survey, preschool, sociolinguistic environment.

In: Human, Technologies and Quality of Education, 2021 = Cilvēks, tehnoloģijas un izglītības kvalitāte, 2021
Rīga, University of Latvia, 2021. 1148 p. Ed. L. Daniela
ISBN 978-9934-18-735-3