Repository logo

Family language policy and practice as parental mediation of habitus, capital and field: an ethnographic case-study of migrant families in England



Change log


Savikj, Biljana 


This research aims to examine how migrant families living in England establish their family language policy and practice. It is set within a context of increased levels of transnational migration and globalisation (OECD, 2015). The number of migrant families in which parents have different language backgrounds is increasing on a European level (Lanzieri, 2012) and in London one in three families is thought to be multilingual (OECD, 2010). This has implications for research into the role of languages for education of children from migrant families. According to the Department for Education (DfE, 2017) in England, the percentage of pupils who are believed to be exposed to a language other than English at home has been steadily increasing since 2006, and in 2017, 20.6 per cent of primary school pupils and 16.2 per cent of secondary school pupils had English as an additional language. While some research has investigated how children from migrant families succeed at school by measuring their educational outcomes, there are a lack of studies which explore what is happening within migrant families themselves: how and why do some migrant families in the same context practise and maintain their heritage languages, while others do not? (Curdt-Christiansen, 2009, 2016).

To examine the ways in which migrant families in England decide on their family language policy and practice, this study adopts a coherent model which integrates two theoretical frameworks, namely Pierre Bourdieu’s (1977b) theory of social practice with its concepts of habitus, field and capital, and Family Language Policy (FLP). The aim of bringing together the two theoretical frameworks is to examine how family language policy and practice is mediated by the families’ subjective experience and the conditions in the objective social context of which they are a part.

This study employs ethnographic methods of inquiry including interviews, participant observations and family self-audio recordings to allow for an in-depth exploration of the ways in which five migrant families in England set up their family language policy and practice. The mothers in the families are all Macedonian and the fathers are either English, Italian, Chinese, Scottish or Serbian. Ethnographic interviews were conducted with the parents in five migrant families, their children, grandparents and relatives, the parents’ and the children’ close social network of friends, the children’s mainstream school teachers and members of the Macedonian community in London. The analysis of each family case focuses on the family language policy and practice and the parents’ language ideologies and aspirations that underpin them. The study also analyses the ways in which the national language education policy context in England structures the family language policy and practice.

The findings suggest that the family language policy and practice in migrant families is established based on the ways in which the parents mediate their past experiences including their family upbringing, education and employment as migrants in England (habitus) and the cultural, linguistic, social and economic resources they are able or unable to draw on (capital) within the context of national and local language education policies and practices in England (field).





Liu, Yongcan


Family language policy, Bourdieu, migrant families


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge