Extending Identification for Bilingual Students


Owing to contemporary trends such as globalization, refugee and migrant influx, increased social and geographical mobility, and global education dissemination, progressively more multilingual and multicultural settings have been emerging worldwide (Trisnawati, 2017). Such settings have led to the growth of bilingualism (and multilingualism) in population groups. Consequently, this research will address the subject of how bilingual persons (those who speak their native tongue, as well as the language, is spoken in the place they have migrated to) maintain their identity within multilingual/ multicultural contexts. Familiarity with their native tongue accords them a sense of pride and internal strength about their heritage.

Problem and its context

The chief topic of discussion in this research will be how multilingual or bilingual persons retain their ethnic/cultural identity within multilingual/multicultural contexts. Evidence to support the research will be collected from several related multilingual/multicultural contexts. But the specific context for the research is multicultural higher education institutions, focusing specifically on America, owing to its popular multilingual/multicultural institutions and constitutional rights and freedoms enjoyed by all individuals in the nation. But the key point here is, different educational institutions may have their distinct policies on multiculturalism/multilingualism.

Strategies to promote identification with and pride in native culture and language

i. Speaking their language

Language constitutes one of the key factors in bilingual identity maintenance. Giles and coworkers’ (1977) study caused them to claim that one cultural unity and ethnic identity symbol was in-group speech, which is utilized to remind members of their cultural heritage, excluding out-group members from their internal dealings, and conveying group feelings. Considering the contribution of language to individual identity definition, it is, perhaps, easy to perceive oneself as an ethnic group member if one can speak their language if monolingual.

Imbens-Bailey’s (1996) research work attempted to ascertain the importance of proficiency in the Armenian language on Armenian-American bilingual children. This research revealed that bilingual children felt closer to their native Armenian community as compared to their monolingual (English-speaking) counterparts. Moreover, the research reveals that for reinforcing ethnic identity, familiarity with one’s native tongue helps. Likewise, a research effort on the part of Zhou and Bankston (1995) on New Orleans’ Vietnamese first and second-generation youngsters suggested a robust linkage existed between ethnic identity and language, with the latter being a form of access to one’s ethnic community.

Here, retaining one’s native tongue may be perceived in the form of a cultural resource (Phinney et al., 2001). But, language status may also end up impacting the attitudes of bilinguals towards their cultural identity in a community that regards one language as superior to another. For instance, study findings suggest that Lappish-speaking Sami refrain from using their native language in the presence of local Norwegians as Lappish is viewed as a “low” status language when compared with the more superior Norwegian language (Danbolt, 2011). Still, language competence continues to play a central part when it comes to the establishment of bilinguals’ identity, as linguistic status is also greatly dependent on bilinguals’ capability of maintaining the language itself (Danbolt, 2011).

ii. A close relationship with their family

A second key factor in maintaining cultural identity is linked to the family. According to Phinney and colleagues (2001), parental attitudes are a salient ethnic identity contributor, as witnessed by looking at Armenian-Americans. Armenian parents proved to be a major influence when it came to retaining their children’s cultural identity, through ensuring they were enrolled in schools that taught the Armenian language. The above finding is consistent with Cichello and Rosenthal’s (1986, p. 488) view that “parents’ retention or rejection of the culture” may be considered by children to be “a statement of the value of the group”; consequently, such primary familial socialization may aid bilinguals in developing more positive attitudes concerning their cultural/ethnic identity.

Maintaining ties with kith and kin comes easy for students within multilingual contexts, particularly when they are in their first stage of transition and are still attached to their home and family. However, after they become comfortable and familiar with their new life within the novel cultural setting, they may begin losing touch with their kith and kin. They need to remember that remaining in contact with their old friends’ group will ensure they are connected to their culture and family, allowing them to be connected to and comfortable in both worlds.

iii. Staying in touch with peers

Peer interactions form yet another factor in maintaining one’s cultural identity. Same-ethnic peer interactions may serve to reinforce an individual’s ethnic/cultural identity (Phinney et al., 2001). The above claim is backed by evidence from Phinney and colleagues’ (2001) study based in the city of Los Angeles, on the following three ethnic/cultural groups: Mexican, Armenian, and Vietnamese. The authors discovered same-ethnic peer interaction was more significantly linked to ethnic/cultural identity as compared to their mother tongue’s influence. Peer interactions expose one to diverse cultural experiences that might not be found in the home environment, potentially increasing bilinguals’ self-confidence.

The majority of semi-urban (small) towns and urban cities have clubs or associations for students to join, with affiliations to their community and culture. Frequently, these institutions assume the shape of social clubs, where social gatherings, special events, and parties are organized. Whatever the case, club membership, which brings students closer to their old culture, enables them to retain links to their roots as well as offers them a chance at making new friends who, akin to oneself, may have shifted far from home.

iv. Maintaining cultural traditions

All students follow some traditions a way of life, events, or festivals which formed a part of their life growing up. To students, especially, the maintenance of such traditions facilitates their easy transition into a novel culture, with the awareness that, at least, some structure is the same (Schmidt, 2019). Concurrently, they can better embrace elements of their new culture. Usually, special occasions, certain events, and festivals offer the ideal avenue for familiarizing one’s new friends with one’s unique culture while embracing their culture. To students who are not well-aware of their cultural traditions, studying more about events, religious beliefs, and festivals is advised.

v. Sharing one’s culture with one’s new peers

Teaching peers about one’s culture represents a good way of sharing what one loves and misses about home while helping peers understand one better. This may be achieved in several ways: taking friends out to eat at a diner that serves one’s native cuisine; sharing homemade treats with them in class (Schmidt, 2019); talking about one’s culture and the nation at school or the local club, and inviting friends home during a festival, or event, or just dinner. When questioned about one’s home nation, one must share the things that make it unique and what one misses and loves most about it.


To sum up, language is considered a key factor in defining one’s ethnic/cultural identity. Nevertheless, it isn’t the sole factor in identity maintenance within multilingual/multicultural settings. External and internal peer and familial (i.e., social) sources are just as important in maintaining a strong cultural identity amid the blurring boundaries of multiethnic/multicultural identities. Among all suggestions, it is especially valuable to highlight the fact that bilinguals must develop individual ethno-linguistic awareness to maintain their identity in multilingual/multicultural settings.


Bankston III, C. L., & Zhou, M. (1995). Effects of minority-language literacy on the academic achievement of Vietnamese youths in New Orleans. Sociology of education, 1-17.

Danbolt, L. D. (2011). The challenge of bilingualism in a multilingual society: The Bolivian Case. Journal of Intercultural Communication, ISSN, 1404-1634.

Giles, H., Taylor, D. M., & Bourhis, R. Y. (1977). Dimensions of Welsh identity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 7(2), 165-174.

Imbens-Bailey, A. L. (1996). Ancestral language acquisition: Implications for aspects of ethnic identity among Armenian American children and adolescents. Journal of language and social psychology, 15(4), 422-443.

Phinney, J. S., Romero, I., Nava, M., & Huang, D. (2001). The role of language, parents, and peers in ethnic identity among adolescents in immigrant families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 30(2), 135-153.

Rosenthal, D. A., & Cichello, A. M. (1986). The meeting of two cultures: Ethnic identity and psychosocial adjustment of Italian-Australian adolescents. International Journal of Psychology, 21(1-4), 487-501.

Schmidt, D. (2019). How to Maintain Your Culture When Moving to Another Country. The Spruce.

Trisnawati, I. K. (2017). MAINTAINING THE IDENTITY OF BILINGUAL INDIVIDUALS IN MULTICULTURAL/MULTILINGUAL SETTINGS. Englisia: Journal of Language, Education, and Humanities, 5(1), 8-16.

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