Mum and Dad help me keep my mother tongue: An unheard voice from Vietnamese-Australian children

Van Tran, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Sarah Verdon, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Sharynne McLeod, Charles Sturt University, Australia (
Cen Wang, Charles Sturt University, Australia (

Background: Children often grow up with the same “voice” as their parents, which facilitates familial cohesion and personal development. Children growing up in immigrant families do not always have this asset. Many immigrant children do not speak the same mother tongue as their parents’ due to the unsuccessful transmission of home language between generations.

Aim: This paper explores family language policy (quy tắc sử dụng ngôn ngữ cho gia đình), which is one of the factors associated with home language maintenance among Vietnamese immigrant families in Australia.

Method: Using both quantitative and qualitative method and informed by Spolsky’s language policy theory, the study draws upon 151 Vietnamese-Australian parents’ responses to a questionnaire to identify factors linked to the presence of family language policies and the families’ practices regarding home language maintenance.

Results: Only a third of the families reported to have a family language policy and two thirds of those with a policy indicated that they consistently implemented their policy. The presence of a family language policy was linked to parents’ higher Vietnamese proficiency, more Vietnamese language use with their children, and intention of future residence in Vietnam. Four language policies were identified: using Vietnamese with the nuclear family (FLP1), Vietnamese outside the nuclear family (FLP2), English at home (FLP3), and English outside the home (FLP4). Some families used more than one of these policies.

Conclusions: Having a family language policy is significantly associated with the success of home language maintenance. The absence of a family language policy in two thirds of these 151 Vietnamese-Australian families points to the lack of “voice” in the home language of these children. An explicit family language policy aimed at maintaining Vietnamese at home will help Vietnamese-Australian children speak the same languages as their parents, promoting multilingualism and supporting their speech and language development.

Implications for children: Children around the world are speaking lots of languages. If you can speak Vietnamese and English, you are multilingual. There are lots of benefits of being multilingual such as being able to play games, sing songs, read books and talk to people in different languages. Ask your Mum and Dad to help you speak Vietnamese!

Implications for families: Having a consistent family language policy, which is a set of rules around how languages will be used in a family, makes it easier for your family to maintain your home language. Many families do not have a family language policy and this puts home language maintenance at risk. If you want to maintain your home language, work together to develop a set of rules to support the use of your home language with your children.

Implications for practitioners: Many multilingual families will seek your advice about whether to maintain their home languages. Home language maintenance has many benefits and does not negatively impact children’s development. Therefore you should support families who want to maintain their home languages. You can advise multilingual parents to have an explicit family language policy to promote the use of home language among family members.

Funding: Australian Postgraduate Awards Scholarship/Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP DP180102848)

Key words: children’s voices, Vietnamese-Australian parents, family language policy, home language maintenance

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: