Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

African American Parents’ Perspectives toward Bilingualism for Children in Elementary School

African American Parents’ Perspectives toward Bilingualism for Children in Elementary School
D. Batts

The body of scholarly research related to parents’ attitudes towards bilingualism have focused on English speaking and non-English-speaking parents’ perspectives about their children’s participation in bilingual programs aimed at teaching English to language minority students. This paper intends to explore the attitudes of African American parents relating to their children learning a second language in elementary school.

Two methodologies were employed to gather the perspectives of African American parents. First, three in-depth interviews were conducted with parents of children attending a foreign language immersion school. Secondly, a survey was distributed to a broader audience of approximately fifty African American parents with children enrolled in elementary school.

Research results from the interviews suggest that African American parents with children attending language immersion program have positive attitudes about second language learning in elementary schools. The parents cited two primary benefits for learning a second language. The first benefit is the creation of linguistic capital. The ability to speak a second language is perceived to provide future access to personal and professional opportunities that may not otherwise have been available. The second benefit from learning a second language is cultural sensitivity. The parents indicated that the ability to interact with other cultures was becoming increasingly important in a global environment. These parents viewed learning a second language as a core academic requirement.

The results from the survey also suggested that, in general, African American parents have positive attitudes towards second language learning in elementary schools. These parents also equated second language proficiency with access to future opportunities and development of cultural sensitivity. While these parents viewed learning a second language as important, over half of their children were not studying a second language. This could suggest that learning a second language is a desirable but not mandatory option.

The study can serve as a foundation for future research about the potential role of bilingual education as well as the effect of bilingualism within African Americans’ social structures.


April 17, 2009 - Posted by | abstract


  1. We are the filmmakers of the forthcoming documentary, SPEAKING IN TONGUES, premiering at San Francisco’s International Film Festival 2009. One of the kids featured in our film is an African American boy in kindergarten learning Mandarin Chinese in a language immersion program. His mother shares the same attitude as was found in your survey that learning a second language will give her son greater advantages and opportunities.

    SPEAKING IN TONGUES tells the story of four diverse kids becoming bilingual in the public schools in a time when 31 states have passed English Only initiatives. As their city debates the provocative notion that speaking a foreign language can be a national asset, we see how they face the challenges and delights of becoming fluent in two languages. Through their eyes, we witness how speaking more than one language changes them, their families, their communities, and maybe even the world.

    To learn more about the film, you can watch our 2 minute trailer at:
    or read the description on the San Francisco International Film Festival website, where the film is premiering in April:


    Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider
    PatchWorks Films

    Comment by Marcia Jarmel | April 17, 2009 | Reply

  2. Was there any indication that African-American parents value any particular language for their children? It is interesting but maybe not surprising that there is a discrepancy between valuing bilingualism and placing children in second language classes – was there any indication in the survey as to why this might be?

    Comment by Elanya | April 20, 2009 | Reply

  3. Spanish was ranked first by the majority of parents surveyed. The most cited reason was the need to communicate with the “rising Spanish speaking population” in the United States. The survey did not capture the reasons why some children are not enrolled in second language classes.

    Comment by D. Batts | April 22, 2009 | Reply

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