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Language heirs: how immigrant children support Russian in the USA

Who are the language heirs? What is unusual about their speech? How to motivate them to support the Russian language? And what mistakes should be avoided? Especially for "Voices of America" This was told by Irina Dubinina, assistant professor of Russian language at Brandeis University in Boston and Maria Polinskaya, professor of linguistics at the University of Maryland.

Photo: Shutterstock

Imagine that the family speaks one language, but the country where the family lives speaks another language. The child in this family speaks the language of the family, but then, having gone to kindergarten or school, more and more switches to the language of his country and less and less begins to speak his home language. And then he begins to speak this home language less and less. Language is like gymnastic exercises or playing the piano, the less practice, the less skill. Such a person who speaks two languages, while speaking one of them weaker, is called a heritage speaker in English. In Russian, a good term did not happen, and such people are often called heirs, linguistic heirs, or the dissonant word “heritage”.

It is very important for people to come up with names for everything. There is a name - there is a concept. And before the name “heritian” appeared, such people were simply called bilinguals. But the concept of a bilingual is actually broader than the concept of a linguistic heir. Such heirs are the concept of the so-called unbalanced bilingual, in which one language is much stronger than the other. Moreover, the stronger language is the language of the country, of the external environment.

An unusual feature of this hereditary bilingualism is precisely that the dominant language for them is their second language. At the same time, they are, as it were, speakers of their first, native language, but at the same time they are not speakers of it, because they do not speak it as well as they speak a chronologically second language. They hear the family language less and less, and as a rule, they do not hear monolingual speech, but a mixture of languages ​​or migrant borrowings. These are children who think that "dachshund" and "loyer" are normal Russian words. Although, of course, the concept of a hereditary carrier also includes those who spoke two languages ​​at the same time, and did not learn them sequentially.

What is characteristic of the speech of the hereditary carrier? His portrait is highly dependent on age. If we take a small child born in a Russian-speaking family in America, in Israel or in Germany, this child is quite strongly surrounded by the Russian language. Maybe this is not the same language that would be at home, in Russia or in the territory of the post-Soviet space, but the child hears it enough. Therefore, the five-year-old future heir of the language is not too different from the five-year-old peer in the homeland. And then a person begins to grow and use his home language less and less, listen to him less. At a transitional age, like all children, he wants to be different from his family and all this causes a change in language.

Older heirs, who have already gone to university or are living on their own, find it difficult to remember words - they will speak very slowly. Many people who speak to them say that this is torture - they have to “wait half an hour”, and therefore many parents refuse to speak their home language. It is easier to speak English with children to get things done faster. But the less they hear, the less they speak. A vicious circle is formed. Very often they cannot read and write in their native language, and this is one of the important tasks of their education.

As a rule, adult heirs have less vocabulary than people who live in Russia. They are less included in Russian culture. Such heirs do not understand jokes. We all love to tell jokes, both yesterday and 40 years ago. Telling their heirs is torment, because you need to explain who Stirlitz is, who Brezhnev is ...

Maybe someone is thinking now: “No, my child is completely different. He perfectly understands anecdotes, reads Pushkin, retells Lermontov ”. We are sure that there are such people. But we are talking about a statistically average heir, who in Russian can say: “Grandma, I’m your lublu” and ask where the car keys are.

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The speech of the heirs is formed not only by the borrowing of individual words or phrases. Their speech is characterized by syntactic borrowing, they directly copy constructions from the English language, which they fill in with Russian words. Everyone knows “take a bus” and “do 20 miles by bike”, “I hope you are healthy and in good health.” Lexical borrowings, except for “loyer”, are “babysitter” instead of “nanny”, “insurance” instead of “insurance”. It is important that this is not just vocabulary, not just “let's teach them real Russian words”. The problem is broader, because it is a tracing of entire structures of the English language, idiomatic expressions, a misunderstanding of the nuances of words.

“Recently I said to a student:“ How glad I am that you recovered, ”and she was terribly offended, deciding that I was hinting at an increase in kilograms,” says Irina. "And I meant that she recovered because she was sick before."

In addition, these people are used to the kind of speech they hear at home. Therefore, they are at least one generation behind their peers in Russia. The man who is 20 years old and he lives in St. Petersburg, and the 20-year-old from Washington speak completely different languages, because the 20-year-old Russian-speaking from Washington speaks the language of his grandparents. They do not know any changes, for example, in the form of address. Now in Russia it is customary to apply with a full name without a middle name - for example, Maria. Although according to age, the expert says about himself, it would be more appropriate to call him by his first name and patronymic, but in modern language it departs. A Russian-speaking resident of the United States who left Russia for a long time will insist on a first name and patronymic. They very often do not know what “you” and “you” are. All this creates a completely different look. You hear that the person seems to speak decently in Russian, he has a good pronunciation, but at the same time he does not speak at all the way we would expect in accordance with this pronunciation.

Also, hereditary speakers often have incorrect endings in words, often strange phrases for a native speaker are obtained, even if the heir does not have an accent and his speech is intonationally similar to that of a monolingual native speaker. But he can say, for example: "I went to the movies with my mother and grandmother." The listener gets a strange dissonance: it seems to be “his own” and he does not have an accent, but says things that the speaker would never say.

How do hereditary speakers themselves relate to their language? Are they embarrassed to speak? This largely depends on how well they speak themselves and how hard they were “hit on the head” at home. People who speak their native language decently tend to realize that they are not the same as monolingual speakers and very often rate themselves quite low. But people who speak quite weakly and have forgotten a lot in their language, as a rule, rely on the fact that they have good pronunciation and are very satisfied with themselves. The worse they speak, the better their opinion of themselves.

The second, which is very typical for the Russian-speaking environment and for the Russian diaspora in different countries, is that these hereditary carriers are often reproached in the family, they say, you are 25 years old, and you speak like a 5-year-old child. This does not inspire any inspiration and a person begins to be shy. In this regard, the Russian diaspora is quite critical of its heirs, therefore they very often close themselves, especially when they become older.

How to teach hereditary carriers? Considering that schools and even universities have very little time to convey the beauty of the language and help the student achieve the full form of the language, it is probably not worth spending time on types of sentences and case names. Grammar is such a nasty word that no one wants to deal with. But grammar is just the rules for how words are organized into longer segments in phrases, sentences. Therefore, grammar must be taught, but not in the same way as a monolingual Russian-speaking child who came to a Russian school, except Russian, has not heard anything in his life and who has many different people with whom he speaks Russian.

A lot depends on the learning objectives. Do we want them to be native speakers such as native speakers who have only one language, who live in Russia and have studied for 11 years at school? Of course not. In addition, we are dealing with people who have two languages. And the second language is better the older they are. And we need to deal with two languages, although we only teach one. The grammar and vocabulary that we teach them should be based on their bilingual personality.

Photo: Shutterstock

When we talk about grammar, two concepts are often confused. The first is the idea of ​​language, which is in the head of every person and allows us to immediately say whether it is right or wrong. For example, if you say: “Masha is a terrible fool,” then you will immediately understand that something is wrong with this proposal. But you won't necessarily be able to explain it. This inner understanding that every native speaker has, regardless of education, is what linguists call grammar. The second understanding of grammar is a textbook of native speech, what we learned, what people in Russia are learning now. This is something that is completely inaccessible to the heirs. Therefore, the task of teaching the heir is to help him develop the internal grammar in his head. She sits in their head - this is an innate understanding of language. But when we develop this grammar, we must try not to discourage their interest in the language with the help of terms (nominative case, accusative case ...). It does nothing and does not help them become better speakers.

This also applies to what to read with them. If you start reading books with them where they understand individual words, but do not put them into meaningful sentences, this will also discourage you from studying your native language. Parents of many carriers are literally obsessed with having their children read Dostoevsky and other classics.

“When my youngest son in the 7th grade went to the Russian language club in the USA, they read Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time,” Maria tells about her personal experience. - It was terrible. He did not understand at all what it was about, his grandmother came every evening and they tried to explain to each other why it was necessary to read “A Hero of Our Time” - from the side of the grandmother and why it was not necessary - from the side of the child. Everything ended in tears, the grandmother was terribly upset that the child did not understand who Maksim Maksimych was, the child shouted that it was terrible and in general it was not Russian. In the end, the Russian language was replaced by drumming. I realized that reading classics will beat everything off. Then we started reading Deniskin's stories and everything went very well. "

According to Maria, the heirs are not ready and cannot use cultural quotes that we are proud of and are used to using in our speech. They often come to Russian classics through translations. Therefore, if you want them to read Dostoevsky in the original, you must start with Denis's Tales and Dunno, or contemporary literature, which is ideologically close to them.

According to Irina, reading is very important and necessary to maintain the language. But the expert also notes that heir children will spend most of their lives in a different language environment. And it is important to remember that they speak Russian to us, but most of their lives they will speak another language. And reading will help them in maintaining their native language. But, first of all, you need to read literature by age. And before requiring a child to read Dostoevsky, one must teach the child to love children's literature. But here the question arises: what kind of children's literature? After all, parents for the most part grew up in Soviet times, when there was a certain ideological orientation in many works of children's literature. And they don't know how much good children's literature appears in Russia every year. Therefore, parents need to attend to the search for books that will be of interest to their children and that they can read in Russian that match their age and interests. And to the classics, of course, you need to grow. Irina recommends that children 15-16 years old start reading modern literature. To read the classics, you need to know not only the language well, but also the concepts that have long gone from the language. A chaise, a wagon, a gendarme, a policeman and similar concepts remained in the 19th century. Pushkin can and should be read, but parents will have to devote a lot of time and explain what it is about, as parents once explained to us in childhood what a room or a parlor is.

One cannot expect both from the child himself that he will go to the room with Dostoevsky's book, understand everything and return joyful, and from the teacher, who sees the child 2 times a week, that he will be able to explain and convey everything. The parents also have this responsibility. Experience shows that it is easy to traumatize a child with your pressure on the topic “let's read something from the classics”. It is very important to find the wave, the stream that will help him understand what an interesting world the book opens.

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Do I need to replenish my vocabulary with slang words used by peers from Russia? Do I need to work on this? Experts believe not. When you start learning a new language, you always want to speak it using slang or curses. There is nothing more funny than talking in slang or swearing with a slight accent. And our heirs always have this accent. Therefore it will sound awfully awkward and funny. The task is to teach them to understand what they are talking about when they come to Russia - but they will begin to understand themselves if they have a good language base. Learning slang for them will be weird. It's like putting on gloves and louboutins at the same time.

Could a reduction in the level of criticism help motivate the speakers to speak better, be interested in the language and relate to everything more easily? From the point of view of the parent, the glass is always half empty. Home banter can hurt and hurt, which leads to the rejection of attempts to speak the language. But from the point of view of the teacher, it is always half a full glass. A monolingual American takes at least 3 years to reach the level of hereditary carriers who come to classes, plus intensive language learning by immersion or at a Russian university. Therefore, it is important for parents to understand that their children know a lot, much more than children who do not grow up in Russian-speaking families. And these children grow up, receiving Russian, from 2-4 people in their life. To grow a native speaker, you need not even a village, but a city. Everyone needs to speak the language. And given how little is given to them, they know a lot. Perhaps this motivates parents not to criticize children for their mistakes.

Correcting when they make mistakes is useless. All children go through a stage where they make mistakes. For example, young children often think that "salt" is a masculine word and often say, "This is salt." They will pass this stage. It is useless to correct a child at three years old. Likewise, it is useless to correct the heir. You can worry somewhere in your soul that they speak differently from your grandmother, or not quite correctly, but constant criticism and corrections will not lead to anything.

What parents can do is increase the amount of language their children have direct contact with, spoken and written. If possible, you need to travel to a Russian-speaking environment. They will go to the yard to play with the guys and immediately learn everything that needs to be learned. The more time they spend in the Russian-speaking environment, the better. Raising a bilingual is a tricky business. This includes the issue of money, the issue of language policy in the family, the commitment of the parents themselves to maintain the language. And instead of criticizing and correcting, the best that parents can do is to increase the child's ability to hear, feel, and try Russian in all its forms.

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