Heritage language literacy support at primary level – are YouTube and Apps the answer?

Sabine Little, University of Sheffield
An investigation of technology use within families to support children’s heritage language development.

This study explored the ways in which technology can and does assist heritage language literacy development. 

Drawing on data from 212 online questionnaires and 10 family interviews, the study found that, while 87% of families used books in the heritage language at least once a week, only a fifth of them used online or mobile apps and games for the same purpose – despite 82% of parents acknowledging their children were interested in mobile games and apps, and 78% of children were interested in learning the heritage language. 

Qualitative answers and family interviews revealed a number of reasons for this mismatch, ranging from lack of access to suitable resources in the relevant language to parental fears of children having too much screen time. In addition, comments revealed that parents treat apps and games differently to books: whereas books are viewed as a shared resource – something to be enjoyed together – apps and games are more frequently seen as something to keep children quiet, or to be used as a motivator, principally by the child alone. 

Comments from some parents also remarked that children were playing games “wrong”, leading to questions around the purpose of play and language play. An overview of resources that accompanied the study found that heritage language children’s needs are difficult to meet in the current market of apps and games, which are aimed either at learners of the language (focusing on vocabulary development), early learners (focusing on early literacy development), or native speaker children (using language that may be beyond a heritage language child growing up outside the full linguistic space afforded by the language). For children, this had connotations with regards to their identity development, and how they viewed themselves as plurilingual individuals. 

Further studies are currently under preparation to explore the various findings in more detail.

Findings from the study were disseminated at the following events:

– UKLA conference, July 2015

– Festival of Social Sciences (Sheffield, November 2015)

– Young Language Learners’ Conference (Oxford, July 2016)

– Researchers’ Night (Sheffield, September 2016)

– International Association of Applied Linguistics conference (AILA 2017, Rio de Janeiro, forthcoming).

For further information contact Sabine Little at s.little@sheffield.ac.uk .


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