Multilingualism and literacy development in interlingual families

Perspectives from Japanese mothers


  • Rika Tsushima Ehime University
  • Martin Guardado University of Alberta



Heritage language, interlingual family, intermarriage, Japanese, language socialization, literacy, mixed marriage


Heritage languages are key to shaping the identity of many individuals who grow up in environments where the dominant societal language is different from their home languages. Yet heritage language learners can be incredibly diverse in terms of cultural and language backgrounds, language proficiency, literacy skills, language socialization experiences and in many other ways. Heritage language education and literacy development, in particular, have been examined in both formal and community-based educational settings. Insights drawn from this growing area of research have informed our understanding of challenges faced by heritage language learners in relation to literacy socialization, such as a lack of educational resources and community support. A subset of this research examines the issues faced by mixed-heritage language families in relation to literacy. This article reports on the qualitative phase of a mixed-method study on the language and literacy socialization experiences of interlingual families in Canada with mothers of Japanese descent. The findings highlight the multiple challenges faced by the participants in relation to the development of Japanese literacy. It draws attention to the complexity of their family lives, and how the promotion of multilingualism in the two official languages of Canada comes at the expense of Japanese literacy skills for their children.

Author Biographies

  • Rika Tsushima, Ehime University

    Rika Tsushima is an Associate Professor in the English Language Centre at Ehime University in Japan. Her teaching and research interests include heritage language development, short-term study abroad, English for academic purposes, learning-oriented assessment and student self-regulation in language learning contexts.

  • Martin Guardado, University of Alberta

    Martin Guardado is an applied and sociocultural linguist investigating language socialization and literacy practices within immigrant communities in Canada, with a particular focus on the development and maintenance of heritage languages. Recent and current funded projects include investigating multilingualism among Japanese families in Montreal, as well as families using a variety of languages in Alberta, Canada. A current funded project focuses on the revitalization of Pipil Náhuat in El Salvador, a critically endangered Indigenous language with fewer than 100 fluent elderly speakers.


Anderson, R. C., Wilson, P. T. and Fielding, L. G. (1988). Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school. Reading Research Quarterly, 23(3), 285–303.

Barski, E. (2013). Spanish and Polish heritage speakers in Canada: The overt pronoun constraint. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Western Ontario.

Blum-Kulka, S. (2008). Language socialization and family dinnertime discourse. In P. A. Duff and N. H. Hornberger (eds), Encyclopedia of language and education. Vol. 8: Language socialization (2nd ed.). Springer.

Bogdan, R. and Biklen, S. K. (1998). Qualitative research for education: an introduction to theory and methods. Allyn and Bacon.

Braun, A. and Cline, T. (2014). Language strategies for trilingual families: parents’ perspectives. Multilingual Matters.

Brecht, R. D. and Ingold, C. W. (2002). Tapping a national resource: heritage languages in the United States. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.

Chen, J. and Kim, Y. (2016). Heritage language education in South Korea and challenges faced by marriage immigrant women. International Journal of Educational Science and Research, 6(4), 43–50.

Chevalier, J. F. (2004). Heritage language literacy: theory and practice. Heritage Language Journal, 2(1), 26–44.

Cho, G., Cho, K. and Tse, L. (1997). Why ethnic minorities want to develop their heritage language: The case of Korean-Americans. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 10(2), 106–112.

Chumak-Horbatsch, R. (1999). Language change in the Ukrainian home: From transmission to maintenance to the beginnings of loss. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 31(2), 61–75.

Cohen, A. D. (1989). Attrition in the productive lexicon of two Portuguese third language speakers. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 11(2), 135–149.

Compton, C. (2001). Heritage language communities and schools: Challenges and recommendations. In J. K. Peyton, D. A. Ranard and S. McGinnis (eds), Heritage languages in America: Preserving a national resource (pp. 145–165). Center for Applied Linguistics and Delta Systems, Inc.

deSouza, K., Lin, H. and Cox, R. B. (2022). Immigrant parents and children navigating two languages: a scoping review. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 15(1).

Duff, P. A. and Becker-Zayas, A. (2017). Demographics and heritage languages in Canada. In O. E. Kagan, M. M. Carreira and C. H. Chik (eds), The Routledge handbook of heritage language education: from innovation to program building (pp. 57–67). Routledge.

Ferguson, G. R. (2013). Language practices and language management in a UK Yemeni community. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34(2), 121–135.

Fishman, J. A. (1972). Language and nationalism: two integrative essays. Newbury House.

Fishman, J. A. (1996a). In praise of the beloved language: a comparative view of positive ethnolinguistic consciousness. Mouton de Gruyter.

Fishman, J. A. (1996b). What do you lose when you lose your language? In G. Cantoni (ed.), Stabilizing indigenous languages (pp. 80–91). Center for Excellence in Education, Northern Arizona University.

Fishman, J. A. (2001). 300-plus years of heritage language in the United States. In J. K. Peyton, D. A. Ranard and S. McGinnis (eds.), Heritage languages in America: preserving a national resource (pp. 81–97). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Gkaintartzi, A., Chatzidaki, A. and Tsokalidou, R. (2014). Albanian parents and the Greek educational context: who is willing to fight for the home language? International Multilingual Research Journal, 8(4), 291–308.

Glaser, Barney G. and Strauss, Anselm L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Aldine.

González-Lloret, M. (2019). Technology and L2 pragmatics learning. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 39, 113–127.

Guardado, M. (2006). Engaging language and cultural spaces: Latin American parents’ reflections on language loss and maintenance in Vancouver. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 9(1), 51–72. Retrieved 1 November 2023 from

Guardado, M. (2017). Heritage language development in interlingual families. In P. P. Trifonas and T. Aravossitas (eds), Handbook of research and practice in heritage language education (pp. 1–17). New York: Springer.

Guardado, M. (2018). Discourse, ideology and heritage language socialization: micro and macro perspectives. De Gruyter Mouton.

Guijarro-Fuentes, P. and Marinis, T. (2011). Voicing language dominance acquiring Spanish by British English/Spanish bilingual children. In K. Potowski and J. Rothman (eds), Bilingual youth: Spanish in English-speaking societies (pp. 227–248). John Benjamins.

Hashimoto, K. and Lee, J. S. (2011). Heritage-language literacy practices: a case study of three Japanese American families. Bilingual Research Journal, 34(2), 161–184.

He, A. W. (2012). Heritage language socialization. In A. Duranti, E. Ochs and B. B. Schieffelin (eds), The handbook of language socialization. Wiley-Blackwell.

Jo, H. Y. (2001). ‘Heritage’ language learning and ethnic identity: Korean Americans’ struggle with language authorities. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 14(1), 26–41.

Kagan, O. and Dillon, K. (2001). A new perspective on teaching Russian: focus on the heritage learner. Slavic and East European Journal, 45(3), 507–518. Retrieved 1 November 2023 from

Kang, H. S. (2015). Korean families in America: their family language policies and home-language maintenance. Bilingual Research Journal, 38(3), 275–291.

Kern, R. (2000). Literacy and language teaching. Oxford University Press.

Kim, C. E. and Pyun, D. O. (2014). Heritage language literacy maintenance: a study of Korean-American heritage learners. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 27(3), 294–315.

Krashen, S. (1993). The power of reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Kravin, H. (1992). Erosion of a language in bilingual development. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 13, 307–325.

Leeman, J. (2012). Investigating language ideologies in Spanish as a heritage language. In S. M. Beaudrie and M. Fairclough (eds), Spanish as a Heritage Language in the United States: The State of the Field (pp. 43–59). Georgetown University Press.

Li, D. and Duff, P. A. (2008). Issues in Chinese heritage language education and research at the postsecondary level. In A. W. He and Y. Xiao (eds), Chinese as a heritage language: fostering rooted world citizenry (pp. 13–36). University of Hawai’i/National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Liu, N., Musica, A., Koscak, S., Vinogradova, P. and Lopez J. (2011). Challenges and needs of community-based heritage language programs and how they are addressed. Heritage Briefs, 1–18. Retrieved 1 November 2023 from

Merriam, S. B. (1991). Case study research in education: a qualitative approach (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Montrul, S. (2010). Current issues in heritage language acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 30, 3–23.

Montrul, S. (2022). Native speakers, interrupted: differential object marking and language change in heritage languages. Cambridge University Press.

Nagpal, J. and Nicoladis, E. (2010). Positive attitudes are not enough: minority language survival in the Canadian Prairies. Slideshow.

Nomura, T. and Caidi, N. (2013). Heritage language acquisition and maintenance: home literacy practices of Japanese-speaking families in Canada. Information Research: An International Electronic Journal, 18(3). Retrieved 1 November 2023 from

Ochs, E. and Schieffelin, B. B. (1995). The impact of language socialization on grammatical development. In P. Fletcher and B. MacWhinney (eds), The Handbook of Child Language (pp. 73–94). Blackwell.

Ochs, E. and Schieffelin, B. B. (2008). Language socialization: An historical overview. In P. A. Duff and N. H. Hornberger (eds), Encyclopedia of language and education. Vol. 8: Language socialization (2nd ed., pp. 3–15). Springer.

Ochs, E. and Schieffelin, B. B. (2012). The theory of language socialization. In A. Duranti, E. Ochs and B. B. Schieffelin (eds), The handbook of language socialization (pp. 1–21). Wiley-Blackwell.

Okita, T. (2002). Invisible work: bilingualism, language choice, and childrearing in intermarried families. John Benjamins.

Okuno, A. (1993). Ethnic identity and language maintenance: a case study of third generation Japanese-Canadians in Toronto. Unpublished master’s thesis.

Oriyama, K. (2012). What role can community contact play in heritage language literacy development? Japanese–English bilingual children in Sydney. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 33(2), 167–186.

Rothman, J. (2007). Heritage speaker competence differences, language change, and input type: inflected infinitives in heritage Brazilian Portuguese. International Journal of Bilingualism, 11(4), 359–389.

Ryan, G. W. and Bernard, H. R. (2003). Techniques to identify themes. Field Methods, 15(1), 85–109.

Schieffelin, B. B. and Ochs, E. (1986a). Language socialization. Annual Review of Anthropology, 15, 163–191. Retrieved 1 November 2023 from

Schieffelin, B. B. and Ochs, E. (1986b). Language socialization across cultures. Cambridge University Press.

Schlyter, S. (1993). ‘The weaker language in bilingual Swedish-French children.’ In K. Hyltenstam and Å. Viberg (eds.), Progression and regression in language: sociocultural, neuropsychological and linguistic perspectives (pp. 289–308). Cambridge University Press.

Stewart, M. A. (2014). Social networking, workplace, and entertainment literacies: the out-of-school literate lives of newcomer Latina/o adolescents. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(4), 365–369.

Sun, H., Ng, S., O’Brien, B. and Fritzsche, T. (2020). Child, family, and school factors in bilingual preschoolers’ vocabulary development in heritage languages. Journal of Child Language, 47(4), 817–843.

Swidinsky, R. and Swidinsky, M. (1997). The determinants of heritage language continuity in Canada: evidence from the 1981 and 1991 census. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 29(1), 81–99.

Torregrossa, J., Flores, C. and Rinke, E. (2023). What modulates the acquisition of difficult structures in a heritage language? A study on Portuguese in contact with French, German and Italian. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 26(1), 179–192.

Tse, L. (2001). Heritage language literacy: a study of US biliterates. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 14(3), 256–268.

Tsushima, R. and Guardado, M. (2019). ‘Rules … I want someone to make them clear’: Japanese mothers in Montreal talk about multilingual parenting. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 18(5), 311–328.

Ulanoff, S. H. and Pucci, S. L. (2005). Where have all the books gone? The evolution of the Spanish print environment in one Los Angeles community. The International Journal of Learning: Annual Review, 11(1).

Velázquez, I. (2016). Reported literacy, media consumption and social media use as measures of relevance of Spanish as a heritage language. International Journal of Bilingualism, 21(1), 21–33.

Verheijen, L. (2013). The effects of text messaging and instant messaging on literacy. English Studies, 94(5), 582–602.

Xiao, Y. (2008). Chinese as a heritage language: fostering rooted world citizenry. National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Yamamoto, M. (2001). Language use in interlingual families: A Japanese–English sociolinguistic study. Multilingual Matters.

Zhang, D. and Koda, K. (2011). Home literacy environment and word knowledge development: a study of young learners of Chinese as a heritage language. Bilingual Research Journal, 34(1), 4–18.






How to Cite

Tsushima, R., & Guardado, M. (2024). Multilingualism and literacy development in interlingual families: Perspectives from Japanese mothers. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 5(1), 47-68.