Ellis, E.M., Sims, M & Knox, V. (2018) The challenge of isolation in immigrant family language maintenance in regional Australia. Pages 17-35.
The critical factor determining whether children of immigrants become bilingual is strong family and community support for, and use of, the home language(s) alongside English (Pauwels, 2005). It is well accepted that children of immigrant parents often undergo language shift to English (Clyne & Kipp, 1996), that bilingualism is a cognitive and social asset to children (Wong Fillmore, 2000) and that maintaining “potential for belonging” (Bilbatua & Ellis, 2011) is a powerful motivator for families to maintain the home language. As yet, however, we know little about how bilingual families in isolated circumstances in regional Australia manage the task of passing on their home language in the absence of a co-located speech community.
This paper focuses on the challenges and impacts associated with isolation for plurilingual families in small towns in regional Australia. In this paper, selected findings are presented from a larger research project (the base study, titled ‘Bilingualism in the Bush) tracking the experiences of plurilingual families with pre-school-aged children in three regional towns over a three-year period. This paper explores each family’s language goals, aspirations, beliefs and practices. Findings reported here are that families struggle, facing extra pressures brought on by isolation from other speakers of the home language, that extended family relationships, often crucial to bilingual acquisition, can be problematic and not necessarily available for language support, and that the demands of work and study exacerbate the problems of isolation.