Language acquisition as a window to social integration among Russian language minority children in Israel

Armon-Lotem, S.

This paper outlines a research program which looks at identity and attitudes and their
relationship to language acquisition among Russian-background language minority children.
The study focuses on linguistic and social development in early childhood (ages 4-7) and on
formal transitions from home to kindergarten to school and informal transitions from family
to peers to groups or collective identities. Language acquisition and language use patterns,
including lexical, grammatical and pragmatic data are used as a window to the child's identity
and attitudes and likelihood of social integration or cultural divergence. Identity, attitude and
behavioral measures of language development are used to investigate the extent to which
Russian immigrant children are likely to integrate into Israeli society. Data from the interface
of language acquisition and identity/attitudes are expected to help identify policy options for
social integration of language minority students in both formal and informal educational
frameworks. A range of issues from research in psycholinguistics and social psychology
inform the study of social integration of language minority children. One issue has been
labeled the home language/school language mismatch, i.e. the fact that the language(s) spoken
in the homes of language minority children differ from the academic language and literacy
skills needed to succeed in school. That mismatch plays itself out along two dimensions: (a)
home language (Russian) vs. Hebrew; (b) the spoken vernacular vs. school language. Parents
of second-generation immigrants may speak Russian, and their children may respond to them
in Russian, Hebrew, or a bilingual codeswitched variety of the two languages. Spoken
language skills, often in a colloquial dialect of Russian, enable communication with parents,
grandparents, siblings and peers, but may or may not help in the acquisition of reading and
cognitively demanding tasks in Hebrew. This issue is also related to the relative level of
knowledge of home language proficiency/ literacy needed to succeed in second language
acquisition. Despite some efforts to promote bilingual education and a high level of linguistic
vitality due to the large numbers of Russian speakers in Israel, children are mostly transitional
from bilingual homes to dominance in Hebrew. A second major focus of this research is the
role of identity and attitudes in language acquisition, language maintenance and shift. The
transition from bilingualism in the home to relative dominance in Hebrew follows a different
course than that of other minorities in Israel. 

Armon-Lotem, S., Gagarina, N., Altman, C., Burstein-Feldman, Z.G., Gupol, O. &  Walters, J.(2008)

Language acquisition as a window to integration among Russian language minority children in Israel. Israel Studies in Language and Society, 1, 155-177

Last Updated Date : 08/08/2018