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Mothers’ experiences of French mothertongue maintenance : towards a critical literacy approach Iqbal, Isabeau Anisa

Abstract

The purpose of this research was to explore how francophone mothers, having taken on the primary responsibility of teaching French to their young children, experience loss of their mothertongue and describe support and barriers to regaining and maintaining their native language. The principal research questions were: 1) How do francophone mothers residing in Greater Vancouver perceive the experience of maintaining and regaining their mothertongue? 2) How do francophone women living in an English-majority city feel supported or challenged in their decision to speak and improve their French while they take on the primary responsibility for teaching French to their pre-school aged children? 3) How do the women connect their experience of motherhood with their own language maintenance and revival? A literature review indicated three overall notions: 1) In North America, the ideal mother is portrayed as being sacrificial and ultimately responsible for her children's education and well-being, 2) language, identity and community are closely linked concepts, and 3) critical literacy is an educational process that can assist mothers interpret their social present for the purpose of transformation. A review of the literature produced few studies which included francophone mothers' experiences of maintaining their mother tongue while teaching their children French. Participants were eight women who had one or two children, six years or younger, living at home with whom they spoke solely or predominantly in French. Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed several themes. Firstly, although the women experienced language loss in diverse way, all the participants connected their decision to speak French with their children to an attachment with their own personal and cultural sense of identity. Second, participants described that, as compared to before motherhood, they were much more motivated to communicate in French and participate in various francophone activities. Third, women felt that lack of resources in the community, lack of time and having an English speaking partner limited their ability to actively improve their French. Fourth, participants in the study believed that having a greater number of established activities for children and their parents whereby mothers could connect with one another and build friendships would greatly support their desire to improve their fluency in French. The results of this study have implications for the services provided by associations representing francophones in British Columbia, for official language policy in French-minority Canada, for adult educators working with critical literacy and feminist concerns, and for people interested in promoting family health.

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