Stavans, Anat. “‘If you know Amharic you can read this’: Emergent Literacy in Multilingual Pre-Reading Children.” In Crosslinguistic Influence and Crosslinguistic Interaction in Multilingual Language Learning (ed. Gessica De Angelis et al; London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015): 149-72.
The Ethiopian families, who immigrated to Israel in the early 1990s, represent an instrumental example for the study of the social and cultural integration of an immigrant community with low socio-economic status, limited schooling and non-Western oral or literate cultural traditions. Children from such backgrounds, even those born in the new country, have to cope with at least three languages to greater or lesser degrees and for different purposes in their day-to-day lives. These families are overt bilinguals with Amharic/Tigris as their home language and Hebrew as the dominant language of the host society and the language of schooling; however, they are also latent trilinguals because in addition they contend with English presence in the daily life with its influence into the local languages, its presence in all media input, its economic (local production must be marked in Hebrew, Arabic and English) and geopolitical attributes, as well as the core curricular requirement for scholastic graduation. The Ethiopian family exhibits mostly oral literacy in the home language while school requires literacy in Hebrew and in English (at times as early as first and second grades). Unlike veteran or higher SES families, most Ethiopian parents cannot afford the benefits of extracurricular enrichment programs or tutors and they rely mostly on what is available in their environment and what they as members of the community can provide for their children.
This paper explores the role that languages and literacy practices play in Ethiopian immigrant families transposed to Israel as part of Israel’s family language policy, by examining parental perspectives on their respective L1 and L2 usages, in both parents’ and children’s lives, as well as by examining the home literacy provisions supporting children’s literacy development. The study profiles 67 Ethiopian immigrant families and describes the factors affecting home and school literacy patterns, assessing usage and attitude in L1 and L2 proficiency, as well as families’ literacy-driven discourse practices. The findings of this study indicate that Ethiopian parents engage in their children’s educational and social life until first grade, when they relinquish the maintenance of L1 in favour of a yet-incomplete L2. The Ethiopian case is instrumental to describe language and literacy affordances in a country that is officially trilingual, a neighbourhood that is at least quadrilingual, a home that is bilingual and a schooling system that is monolingual. Furthermore, the results of this study indicate that although both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian parents have different extended discourses and perhaps even discursive preferences, the form and function of these discourses coincide with those needed or assumed for successful development of scholastic literacy. Against this background, a need emerges to espouse a mutual respect and interaction between the two literacy traditions to enhance both children’s and parents’ literacy development.
Literacy in the national language is a necessary skill particularly for migrants. State institutions regulate the acquisition of linguistic resources as a way of controlling and distributing citizenship rights. It follows that programs and texts for teaching immigrants may serve as conduits for national and linguistic ideologies. The article critically analyzes texts teaching Hebrew to unschooled Israeli adult immigrants during a literacy campaign in the 1960s-1970s. It argues that these texts were employed for the Israeli nation-building project, constructing an image of the literate Israeli citizen who participates in civic life, as well as accepts his or her role within the socio-cultural structure of the time. The analysis of texts within their contexts provides insights for better understanding the process of enculturation and language socialization of immigrants.