Navigating Linguistic Environments – A Narrative of Contexts Where an Emerging Bilingual Child Thrives

Yetunde S. Alabede, Michigan State University

3:30-4:00 (Room 235)



Many parent Nigerian immigrants, who came to the U.S. with their distinctive Nigerian
language and values, often expect that their children (many of whom were born here) develop
competence in linguistic and cultural knowledge of their heritage – which could be one of the
almost 500 Nigerian languages and cultures. Despite this parental desire, the challenges, and
motivations for raising bilingual children in an English-dominant environment is complex and
multifaceted. But while it is easier to raise bi/multilingual kids in Nigeria because the structure of society and language policy in the curriculum (Akinpelu, 2020; NPE, 2004), the reverse is the case in the U.S., where public school curricula favor English-only education. Also, parents’ level of investment, children’s experience, and socioeconomic factors are among the factors that influence how children become emergent bi/multilinguals. Given the context in the US, to what extent are Nigerian immigrants invested in their children’s bilingualism and intercultural

Drawing on the One Parent One Language (OPOL) policy, this study investigates the
motivations for Nigerian immigrant parents raising children to actively acquire and maintain
their Nigerian home language. As a family strategy in Family Language Policy (FLP), OPOL is a
practice where adults in each household consistently uses one language with the child (Baker,
2011; Kwon, 2020; Olmedo, 2005; Piller and Gerber, 2018).

This paper focuses on one child’s linguistic development across three different linguistic
and academic environments. Using intersectionality and transnationalism frameworks, it
investigates the child’s exploration of the different settings. Analysis of the data highlights the
narratives of an immigrant mother-scholar’s investment and strategies to support her child
bi/multilingual development and chronicles how the child navigates the different environments she occupies. The preliminary findings show that the child varies language use depending on the environment and the interlocutor. This study contributes to how OPOL may reflect children’s linguistic and cultural knowledge to enhance bi/multilingualism at home and in school.