Supporting children’s Chinese heritage language maintenance in the home: a case study of one Chinese Canadian immigrant family




Shi, Zihan

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation features a three-month qualitative descriptive case study that examined the home literacy practices employed in maintaining a heritage language by a Chinese immigrant family living in a mid-sized city in western Canada. Influenced by Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, as well as the foundational concepts of d/Discourse, diglossia, and accommodation without assimilation, the research questions guiding the study were: (1) What activities do Chinese parents use in the home to maintain and develop their children’s Mandarin home language? (2) How do children respond to these activities? and (3) What beliefs and attitudes do the parents and children hold in relation to heritage language maintenance (HLM)? Most of the literature on HLM has focused primarily on post-secondary learners, children in metropolitan areas, or heritage language schools and communities, whereas this research was an in-depth examination of home literacy environment provided by immigrant parents to support their children’s heritage language, with limited community resources. Data were collected through home observations, video recordings selected by and submitted by the parents of their heritage language (HL) activities, semi-structured interviews of individual members of the family, and children’s work samples. Data were inductively analyzed using NVivo 10 software. Four themes emerged from the study: (a) parents’ intentional provision of a rich and robust home literacy environment; (b) a range of children’s responses to Chinese and English literacy activities in the home; and (c) parents’ broad perspectives on children’s language and literacy learning; (d) parents’ expectations and attitudes towards learning Chinese. The research showed that the parents drew on learning practices from both Western and Eastern traditions. One powerful activity that the family used was an extended read-aloud practice in which the mother made innovative use of the same texts/resources in different languages, along with exploratory talk that engaged the children. Various homework practices elicited a mixture of responses, ranging from enthusiastic involvement to mild engagement to frustration. The practices were related to the parents’ beliefs about how language learning occurs. The finding also indicated that the parents faced significant challenges in supporting their children’s HLM in a diglossic society, which offered few opportunities to use Chinese at a high cognitive level.



Heritage Language Maintenance, Home Literacy Environment, Chinese Immigrant Family