Jacob is a freshman at Swarthmore College. Watch his video on the complexities of language ideology here.
What's Different About Growing Up Albanian in the U.S.?
- My first informant was Irisa. Growing up in Albania, Irisa was only exposed to Albanian. Irisa and her family moved to the U.S. in 2008 when Irisa was 8 years old; this began Irisa's interactions with English.
- My second informant was Erika, born in the United States as the daughter of Albanian immigrants. Erika was exposed to Albanian and English at the same time.
While interviewing Irisa, she mentioned that English and Albanian are divided in terms of where she makes use of either language. Albanian is the language Irisa uses the majority of the time: when she is with her family, when she is with Albanian friends, and even when she is thinking, the language is Albanian. Just as a reminder, Irisa began learning English when she was 8 years old and put into English-based schooling. For her, English is reserved for school and communicating with friends that are not Albanian-speaking. As she shared with me, “I have a hard time expressing myself in contexts outside of school.”
- “I was surrounded by English… so it was either do or die. It’s like [you’re] thrown [into] a swimming pool and told to swim without [being given] lessons.”
My video interview with Erika gave me information that presented itself in contrast to the experiences of Irisa. When I asked Erika what her first language is, she said that she considers both English and Albanian to be her first languages. Even though Erika grew up in a household that was primarily Albanian-speaking, her mother made sure to provide Erika with materials that would stimulate a learning of English. For example, Erika's mother would often read her bedtime stories written in English. Though, Erika did mention that she truly began learning English when she began school--an environment that was English-based--and whenever she stepped out of her home environment in general. With Albanian, Erika received all her Albanian education at home.
- “Having Albanian be the dominant language in my household and English the dominant language outside [of my home]...forced me to learn both languages [as] if I [were] going to live in both environments.”
As part of my interview with Irisa and Erika, I asked, “Which language do you value the most?” Both said that they value Albanian more than they do English, given that the language has allowed them to stay connected to a culture that is a large part of their lives. Albanian, their heritage language (or the language most connected to their home culture), is the one that has remained the most valuable.
It is evident that different language upbringings can affect how one handles certain situations that are only accessible in one language, like maintaining connections within one’s house and attending an English-based school in the U.S., leading to a formation of a language ideology. Both women I interviewed have a language ideology that gives English importance within academic settings and Albanian importance within settings related to their Albanian heritage. So, Albanian may be more valued overall but Irisa and Erika have grown to understand that English as necessary for them to get a formal education in the U.S.
Overall, it seems that the language ideologies of the two Albanian Americans I interviewed are similar in their overall scope, though the experiences that both of them have had leading to the formation of their language ideologies have been different. I hope to expand this research as I gain access to more informants, and I will likely shift focus to the language ideologies of different types of bi/multilinguals instead of solely English + Albanian bilinguals.