Kennesaw State research aims to preserve language and culture in trilingual homes

KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 3, 2023

Multilingual research
Left to right, Mihaela Gazioglu of Clemson University, and Tuba Angay-Crowder and Jayoung Choi of Kennesaw State University.
As they raise multilingual families, Kennesaw State University education faculty and researchers Jayoung Choi and Tuba Angay-Crowder have seen firsthand the work it takes to preserve the languages they grew up speaking before coming to the U.S.

Choi, professor of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in KSU’s Bagwell College of Education, and Angay-Crowder, a postdoctoral researcher, have teamed up with Clemson University education associate Mihaela Gazioglu and HaBilNet, to make it easier on immigrant families in the U.S. The team has received a grant from the organization to research 10 trilingual immigrant households with children aged 2-12 and develop a website and YouTube channel featuring families’ stories, strategies and research-based guidelines promoting “harmonious multilingualism” for families and practitioners.

“We’re focusing on immigrant families because they’re going against the flow of their communities in pushing for their heritage languages being preserved and developed for their children,” said Choi, who is originally from South Korea. “It’s often a struggle to do that. For parents, there’s often a lot of resistance, lack of support to do that, so we want to highlight their stories for other families who may think this is almost impossible.”

Pointing to studies referenced in her own work, Choi said families with a strong sense of cultural identity and harmonious multilingualism are more likely to pass on cultural traditions, values and customs associated with their languages and develop a stronger sense of identity in their children. Studies also suggest these families may experience less stress related to language use, better family dynamics and relationships and improved language and reading skills in the children, she said.

As it stands, it’s difficult for multilingual families in the U.S. to find resources that can help them maintain their cultural heritage and language in their everyday lives, added Angay-Crowder, who is from Turkey and lives in a bilingual household.

“This work is important because it’s important to keep cultural identity, no matter where a family lives. And this is also about linguistic justice because we want to validate the minority languages that have been undervalued or talked about less in the U.S. context,” she said.

Gazioglu joined Choi in research after attending her presentation at a conference and recognizing their similar academic interests. Gazioglu, who is from Romania and like Choi is the mother of a trilingual child, said the research is both personal and professional for all three on the team.

“Professionally, we are all researchers in this area, and we are interested in how other families are maintaining their heritage languages, but also personally we wanted to find other families who are doing the same work that we do at home and what strategies they use to do that,” Gazioglu said. “American society is not necessarily monolingual, and we want to bring forward these multilingual perspectives, connect with each other and create a community of multilingual families that can support each other.”

The researchers are separately working on a book documenting 60 families’ strategies and challenges preserving multilingualism and say the hope is that their work fosters language and literacy competence in multilingual children and contributes to the normalization of multilingualism in larger society.

The grant-funded research began in March of 2023 and ends in December of 2024.

– By Thomas Hartwell

Photos by Matthew Yung

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit