• It's complicated: immigrant parents in Alaska navigating the process of raising bilingual children

      Dosch, Katerina; Sickmann, Sabine; Marlow, Patrick; Martelle, Wendy (2021-05)
      This qualitative study investigates the process of raising bilingual children in Fairbanks, Alaska. The study was guided by an overarching question: Why do some children in bilingual families become bilingual speakers, whereas other children who also have the chance to become bilingual do not? From that, two main research questions have evolved. 1. What are the elements involved in raising bilingual children in Fairbanks, Alaska as reported by the parents? 2. What is the role of a family's place of residence on their children's bilingualism? Data were collected through a socio- demographic questionnaire, semi-structured in-depth interviews, and focus groups. Three rounds of interviews were conducted with each participating family - an initial interview, a follow up interview, and a focus group interview. Seven families participated in the study and only parents were interviewed. These families consisted of either first generation immigrant parents (sharing or not sharing the same native language) or parents in mixed marriages (immigrants married to native- born Americans). Over 19 hours of data were audio recorded, manually transcribed ad verbum, and analyzed. From the method of grounded theory data coding, groups of elements that are involved in the process of raising bilingual children and the development of children's heritage language (HL) emerged, namely: parental and children's HL related actions, factors influencing bilingualism, factors determining bilingualism, and place of residence. The findings suggest that the process of raising bilingual children is positively or negatively influenced and determined by a complex net of interconnected elements. Raising bilingual children, thus, rests on a combination of supportive and detrimental elements, which are in a constant struggle. It seems that the process of raising bilingual children can absorb a certain amount of detrimental elements without collapsing. Considering the elements involved in raising bilingual children, it is not only parents and their actions that play an important role in the process of raising bilingual children. While parents are the instigators of the process, children greatly influence parental actions connected to the transmission of the HL. The findings of this study suggest though, that children and their actions alone do not decide if the process fails or succeeds. Parents seem to be able to mitigate children's detrimental influences (if they exist) through their consistent use of the HL. On the other hand, some parents hinder their own efforts either through their fears, beliefs, or other personal limitations. Finally, based on the data, place of residence does not seem to play a significant role in the process. Some parents are able to raise bilingual children despite living in a place that poses challenges to bilingual families. These parents are able to overcome obstacles through their own efforts and consistency of the HL use.