Nurturing bilingual children: the voice of Spanish-speaking families in the West of Scotland

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Previous research in the Scottish context has focused on either the most prevalent or most vulnerable migrant communities, therefore, little is known about the Spanish-speaking community. This thesis gives voice to bilingual children and their parents who were linked to a community group for Spanish-speaking families in the West of Scotland and addresses this gap. A case study approach investigated the extent to which the 14 families of Latin American and Spanish heritage were able to nurture their linguistic and cultural identities, and crucially to understand why and how they did this.
In-depth, family group interviews highlighted that family and community play a vital role in shaping children’s linguistic and cultural identities, and supporting their socio-emotional wellbeing, but this is difficult due to the small size of the Spanish-speaking community in the West of Scotland. Latin American families found it more difficult to nurture linguistic and cultural identities than their European counterparts due to geographical distance. Participants valued the support and sense of belonging that the community group offered in the absence of an organically occurring local community and extended family in Scotland; Latin American parents, in particular, highly valued the group. The findings revealed that amongst the numerous intrinsic and extrinsic benefits of bilingualism and biculturalism reported, families believed that intrinsic benefits, such as heightened empathy, confidence and open-mindedness were the most advantageous.
However, findings also showed that there were many structural and attitudinal challenges to developing bilingual and bicultural identities, with promotion of English monolingualism being the biggest perceived barrier not only in schools but also in wider society. What also emerged is that there were discrepancies between educational policy aims and how participants reported these were being implemented through professional practice in schools. Families recounted experiences of subtractive bilingualism, illustrating the need for more Continuing Professional Development for educators in order to effectively nurture the development of children’s linguistic and cultural identities. The findings suggest that families used digital technology heavily to mitigate the
lack of wider Spanish-speaking community and the absence of extended family and friends. Existing ecological systems models of child development were limited in their explanatory power as they did not fully account for the heightened, constructive role of digital technology. Therefore, an adapted model incorporating a new ‘digital trans-system’ dimension was created to explain how digital technology transcends systems, settings and structures to have a positive impact on the formation of bilingual children’s linguistic and cultural identities.
The study sheds new light on the experiences of bilingual Spanish-speaking families in the context of the West of Scotland and also offers a wider theoretical contribution on ecological models of child development.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
  • Odena, Oscar, Supervisor, External person
  • Valiente, Oscar, Supervisor, External person
Award date30 Sept 2020
Place of PublicationGlasgow
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2020


  • bilingual children
  • spanish speaking families
  • migrant communities


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