Study Of Language Competence In Pupils In First Year Of School Attendance With Accent On Mother Tongue

Abstract

Communication is an inevitable element in social interaction between people. The developed mother tongue is an advantage of a child when starting school. The mother tongue is the language a child learns as the first one in the process of socialization ( Lemhöfer, Schriefers, & Hanique, 2010 ), the language a child has learnt in his/her life, and which influences a child’s future. Basil Bernstein ( 1971 ) considers a language the main means of person’s socialization, and emphasizes a direct relationship between a social group and a language. In our paper, we discuss language competence in pupils in the first year of school attendance. The paper objective is to bring findings about language maturity in pupils whose mother tongue is Romani in comparison with pupils whose mother tongue is Slovak. The sample included pupils with the Romani mother tongue (n1=69) and pupils with the Slovak mother tongue (n2=76) in the first year of primary schools. The field diagnosis had two phases: the initial phase – at the beginning of a school year, and the final phase – at the end of the school year. In our study, we used the Heidelberg Speech Development Test (H-S-E-T) (Grimmová, Schöller, Mikulajová, 1997), where the authors differentiate between language competence, language performance, and language levels. The test provides a rather complex picture about an achieved level of language development in children. Our testing within the Heidelberg test focused on Sentence building (SB). The findings that we state are interesting also in the moment where the diagnosed children whose mother tongue is Romani had significantly lower scores than the children whose mother tongue is Slovak. We associate this status with the possibility that children whose mother tongue is Romani come from socially disadvantaged environment that is accompanied by poverty and social exclusion. The environment children grow up in significantly influences their communication abilities. To some extent, our findings correspond with Pierre Bourdieu ( 1990 ) who, based on his theory, states that children from socially more stimulating environment – families gain better habitus and cultural capital as they are more prepared for school, are more linguistically capable, and understand the notions significantly better, and vice versa. We draw attention to the fact that children from Roma families with the Romani mother tongue have average performance, and we evaluate the differences in the scores as statistically significant.

Keywords: Mother tongue Language competence Socially disadvantaged environment Child with Romani mother tongue Child with Slovak mother tongue

Introduction

After birth, children grow up in a certain environment, in accordance with conditions in which

they develop. Children acquire not only basic hygiene habits, walking, language, but also thinking,

values, ideals, attitudes, habits, skills, and knowledge about nature and people in a society. During their

primary socialization, children acquire these values, attitudes, norms, and language through their parents,

siblings, relatives, and later through peers in their natural environment. The mother tongue is an

inevitable element in social interaction between people. The developed mother tongue is an advantage for

a child when starting school. The mother tongue is the language a child learns as the first one in the

process of socialization (Lemhöfer, Schriefer, & Hanique 2010), the language a child has learnt in his/her

life, and which influences a child’s future. Basil Bernstein (1971) considers a language the main means of

person’s socialization, and emphasizes a direct relationship between a social group and a language.

We agree with the statements by many authors such as Říčan (1991), Plaňava, (1994), Říčan, G.,

K. (2003), Walsh, F. (1982), and Prúcha, Mareš, Walterová (2003) who focused their studies on families

with children, and developed an essence of social status of the family in the society; the family has

several important functions – biological, economic, social, and psychological. In our society, the family is

considered a mediator of recognized values, the first control organ of meeting the norms, and a mediator

of the cultural archetype. It is also considered a basic social unit and is defined by the Act No 36/20015

Coll. on Family. A correctly set structure – system in the family is one of the most important determinants

of child’s personality development, in which they grow up, where they acquire role models of behaviour

and action, the first models of communication with others, and learn to act in accordance with the set

norms of the society and be responsible for their action. Children growing up in Roma families, as some

authors e.g. Légiose (1995), Horváthová (2002), and Portik (2003) state, have always been considered the

basis of a family, which they prove by their study findings that a biologically-reproductive function is

characteristic for Roma families. These findings are confirmed also by Šikrová (2004) who states that a

half of seven or eight millions of Roma are school-age children. According to Pape (2007), Roma

children are the objects of permanent attention in family environment; in the context of the family they

learn through observation and imitation, which means children learn social interaction, and learn to speak

the Romani mother tongue. The Romani language, as Cina, and Cinová (2010) state, is one of the basic

elements of the Roma ethnic group; Roma can use it for communication anywhere in the world, even

though they communicate in different dialects.

Our sample includes children from Roma families whose mother tongue is Romani in comparison

with the sample including children with the Slovak mother tongue.

We agree with the statement by Rosinský (2009) “…when starting school at the age of six years,

suddenly they are in an unknown, foreign, sometimes even unfriendly environment which they must face

on their own, without help of their parents who they depended on until then. At school, almost everything

is unknown for them – there are no Roma teachers (with exception of those schools where they gradually,

but so far in a small extent, started to use teacher’s assistants – Roma), aids and textbooks’ contents and

designs are adapted to understanding and style of Slovak children, etc. Traditional Roma family education

does not give children such a basis that teachers expect from an average pupil in the first year.”

In this context it is necessary to say that many sociologic authors state that school and education

system are supporters – if not directly tools of social inequalities. The most significant and world-

renowned are Basil Bernstein and Pierre Bourdieu.

Bernstein (1971) in his book “Class, Codes and Control” developed his theory about reproduction

of social inequalities through education system based on analysis of the relationship between a school

system and a way of communication in France. His theory is based on the existence of two types of

language codes (restricted and elaborated) that are obtained by an individual during socialization

particularly in a family, and which influence their abilities, behaviour and responses to education at

school. He sees the role of school in reproduction in the fact that school assumes an elaborated type of the

language code in all children and thus hinders access to education in children with the restricted language

code, which results in a cultural gap.

In the book “Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture”, Bourdieu (1990) introduces a new

term “habitus” that he describes as a set of person’s characteristics developed in the process of

socialisation. Children from socially more stimulating environment – higher classes gain better habitus

and cultural capital as they are more prepared for school, are more linguistically capable, and understand

the notions significantly better. School as an institution assumes the habitus of higher classes and a

greater cultural capital, and thus, children from such families are more successful in their studies and have

better results than children from lower social classes. They describe school as the one that does not

eliminate inequalities but the one that increases them.

As an example, we state the studies by Katrňák (2004), Veselý, Matejů (2010), and Straková et al.

(2006) in which the common denominator are inequalities, where children from different social classes

have different economic and cultural capital, which results in different attitudes to and opinions about

education.

Methods

For the needs of the study “Language Competence in Roma Pupils in First Year of School

Attendance”, we used several research methods and research tools. The research tools, their functionality

and appropriateness were verified in pre-research; then, we modified them for adaptability in the field.

Field research was conducted in two phases at the beginning of the school year and at the end of the

school year so that progress/regress was found. In the study, we used the test – H-S-E-T – Sentence

building (SB) in Slovak and Romani. Other research methods included: analysis, synthesis, comparison,

mathematical and statistical methods, and interpretation method.

Objective

The objective of the scientific project Language Competence in Roma Pupils in First Year of

School Attendance is to find out language maturity in pupils with the Romani mother tongue in

comparison with pupils with the Slovak mother tongue.

Our assumption is there is a statistically significant difference between vocabulary in children with

the Romani mother tongue and children with the Slovak mother tongue.

Sample

The scientific study was conducted at primary schools in the Slovak Republic. The sample

included 69 pupils of the first year in the school year 2015/2016 with the Romani mother tongue – all

these children came from socially disadvantaged environment; and 76 pupils of the first year in the school

year 2015/2016 with the Slovak mother tongue.

Table 1 -
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Data collection

The first phase of field research, i.e. the first testing, was conducted at the beginning of the first

year of primary schools in September of the school year 2015/2016. Research was conducted at the

primary schools in the territory of the Slovak Republic.

The ethics of the scientific study was in accordance with the Act No 122/2013 Coll. on Protection

of Personal Data.

Results

Our objective was to find out the extent and level of active vocabulary in children with the Romani

mother tongue and in children with the Slovak mother tongue at the beginning of school attendance in the

first year of primary school in the school year 2015/2016 (the first testing). In our study, we used the

Heidelberg Speech Development Test H-S-E-T (SB) – the pupils made meaningful sentences based on

given two or three words.

Table 2 -
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The Table shows that children with the Romani mother tongue achieve a significantly lower score

than children with the Slovak mother tongue.

Table 3 -
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The results in the Table clearly show the fact that there are statistically very significant differences

between the results in the Test 2 with the instructions given in Slovak and in their mother tongue –

Romani.

In the Test 2, after using the instructions in Romani – their mother tongue, Roma pupils achieved

statistically very significant better score than after using the instructions in Slovak.

Discussion

Every human being is unique. A child who is born and grows up in socially disadvantaged

environment, this fact in a certain way influences her/his future. The developed mother tongue is an

advantage of a child when starting school along with children of the majority with the Slovak mother

tongue.

Our findings are based on the fact that children with the Romani mother tongue achieve a

significantly lower score than children with the Slovak mother tongue.

However, we must say that children with the Romani mother tongue came from socially

disadvantaged environment that is accompanied by poverty and social exclusion. The environment

children grow up in significantly influences their communication skills. To some extent, our findings

correspond with Bourdieu (1990) who, based on his theory, states that children from socially more

stimulating environment – families gain better linguistic capital, are more prepared for school, are more

linguistically capable, and understand the notions significantly better, and vice versa, which is stated also

by Vanková, (2006).

The Slovak legislation defines a pupil from socially disadvantaged environment, e.g. by the Act

No 245/2008 Coll. on Education: “a pupil living in an environment which, related to the social, family,

economic and cultural conditions, inadequately stimulates development of mental, volitional and

emotional characteristics of a child or a pupil, does not encourage his/her socialization, and does not

provide enough adequate stimuli for development of his/her personality”(translated by the authors).

An interesting finding are the results in the Table 3 where the results clearly show the fact that

there are statistically very significant differences between the results in the Test 2 with the instructions in

Slovak and in their mother tongue – Romani.

In the Test 2, after using the instructions in Romani – their mother tongue, Roma pupils achieved

statistically very significant better score than after using the instructions in Slovak.

Furthermore, we found out that if the children with the Romani mother tongue were instructed in

the Test 2 in their mother tongue, they understood the tasks. Our statement reads: If children with the

Romani mother tongue attended school with the Romani school language, they would not fail in the

educational process. Also Bernstein (1971) considers a language the main means of person’s

socialization, and emphasizes a direct relationship between a social group and a language.

However, we must say that all children with the Romani mother tongue attend primary schools

with the Slovak school language. Cina and Cinová (2010) say about the Romani language that “the

Romani language was, by the act on using the languages of national minorities that was adopted in the

National Council of the Slovak Republic in 1999, declared to be an official national language. Its position

was enhanced also by signing the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which is the

most complex framework agreement regulating the issues of protection and use of the languages of

national minorities in education, jurisdiction, state and public administration, media, culture, economic

and social life, and cross-border cooperation, and was ratified by the Parliament of the Slovak Republic in

July 2001. According to these documents, Roma can exercise their right to educate their children in their

mother tongue, use Romani in official communication, or ask for bilingual signs in the municipalities

with more than 20% representation of this ethnic group (according to the last Census in 2001 there were

52 such municipalities in Slovakia). Roma themselves, however, do not require to exercise this act. The

cause can be their unawareness, as well as their fear to exercise their right and to get into conflicts with

the majority. The truth is that the representatives of the majority are not prepared for official

communication in Romani, and there are no textbooks and books in schools” (translated by the authors).

In the present, in Slovakia all children with the Romani mother tongue attend schools with the

Slovak, Hungarian, or Ruthenian school language. The truth is that children must learn to communicate in

the language of the school they attend. Children learn in a foreign language, which results in a slowdown

of language and mental development.

Based on the findings, we recommend the parents of children whose mother tongue is Romani to

enrol their children in kindergartens, preparatory years with the Slovak communication language, and try

to minimize communication in Romani at home settings.

Conclusion

The Slovak Republic is a multicultural state. Many national minorities such as the Hungarians,

Roma, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Polish, Bulgarians, Russians, Croatians, Germans, Jews,

Moravians, Chinese, and Vietnamese live in our territory. There are the same rights and responsibilities

for all nations and nationalities. The Constitution of the Slovak Republic – the highest legal document

grants the right of each individual to free education at state primary schools. Primary school in

accordance with the principles and objectives of education promotes development of pupil’s personality

on the basis of the principles of humanism, equal treatment, tolerance, democracy and patriotism, given to

intellectual, moral, ethical, esthetical, occupational and physical aspects. It provides elementary

knowledge, skills and abilities in the language, natural science, social science, art, sport, health, and

traffic areas, and other knowledge and skills necessary for their orientation in life and society and their

further education with the aim to increase their real chance for better future.

By our article, we point out that our society must promote all activities leading to prevention of

failure in children with Romani mother tongue in school environment with the Slovak school language

which is perceived as a foreign language by children whose mother tongue is Romani.

Acknowledgments

The paper is part of the project VEGA “Language Competence in Roma Pupils in First Year of School Attendance”; project registration number: 1/0845/15.

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18 December 2019

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Child psychology, developmental psychology, occupational psychology, industrial psychology, ethical issues

Cite this article as:

Vankova, K., Rosinsky, R., & Ceresnikova, M. (2019). Study Of Language Competence In Pupils In First Year Of School Attendance With Accent On Mother Tongue. In Z. Bekirogullari, M. Y. Minas, & R. X. Thambusamy (Eds.), Cognitive - Social, and Behavioural Sciences - icCSBs 2017, January, vol 20. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 268-275). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2017.01.02.28