Language competence is a necessary condition of acculturation and social integration. Communicative competence in the host language widens access to education and employment (Chiswick & Miller, 1999), provides opportunities to build multicultural social networks, and broadens the information base needed to gain a better understanding of the values and ideas underlying host cultural traditions and norms. At the same time, maintenance of the ethnic language has implications with regards to mutual intergenerational communication within the family (Tseng & Fuligni, 2000), as well as social connectedness to the larger ethnic community (Yoon, Lee & Goh, 2008).
The primary purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship of language proficiency and different aspects of social integration in Turkish immigrant parents and preadolescents living in Norway. Although Turks are among the older immigrant groups in Norway, for reasons unknown, the processes of social mobility remain slower among them compared to other labor immigrant and refugee groups (Henriksen, 2007).
We explored the following associations:
1) Among the mothers: a) reported host language proficiency and income and employment status; b) reported proficiency in the host and ethnic language and social participation (i.e., participation in events and school involvement); and c) reported proficiency in the host and ethnic language and perceived social support.
2) Between mothers and their children: a) host and ethnic language competence; b) social integration into Turkish and Norwegian social networks.
The sample consisted of 190 mothers (Mean age = 37.2 years) and 99 7th graders (Mean age = 12.8 yrs; 59% male) of Turkish origin residing in Norway. Both the children and their mothers participated in interviews and responded to questionnaires during a home visit. The following self-report measures were used in the present study:
1) Mothers: a) Gross annual household income and current employment status (employed/not employed); b) Norwegian and Turkish language proficiency in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing; and c) Parent-teacher interaction, participation in events/activities, and perceived social support.
2) Children: a) Norwegian and Turkish language proficiency; and b) Number of friends of Norwegian, Turkish, and Other cultural backgrounds.
Preliminary analyses showed the following:
1) Among the mothers: a) Norwegian language proficiency was significantly correlated to gross household income and employment status. b) Norwegian language proficiency significantly predicted frequency of participation in Norwegian activities and events, as well as involvement in their child’s school. Turkish language proficiency also significantly predicted school involvement, but to a lesser extent, and did not significantly predict mothers’ participation in Turkish activities and events. c) Norwegian language proficiency did not account for any variance in perceived social support, while Turkish language proficiency was a significant predictor.
2) Between mothers and their children: a) Mothers reported better proficiency in Turkish than their children, while children reported better proficiency in Norwegian than their mothers. b) Children’s number of close friends in Norwegian was significantly correlated with mothers’ contact with host families and participation in Norwegian activities. Similarly, children’s number of close friends in Turkish was significantly correlated with mothers’ contact with immigrant families and participation in Turkish activities. Results will be discussed in light of the dynamics of family members’ social and structural integration processes, differences in their language proficiencies, and implications for potential areas of intervention.