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Language Acquisition as a Window to Social Integration among Russian Language Minority Children in Germany and Israel


BMBF funded Consortium

“Migration and Societal Integration”

Grant No. 01UW0702B



 PI1 – Joel Walters, BIU

PI2 – Natalia Gagarina, ZAS

PI3 – Sharon Armon-Lotem, BIU


Coordinator – Carmit Altman

Immigrant parents who are dominant in a minority language generally speak to their second generation children in their native language, while their children tend to respond in the language of the host society. This well-documented phenomenon usually leads to relatively rapid transition (language shift) over a single generation. It can also contribute to the development of multiple identities, identities which are maintained and/or modified through early and later childhood and adolescence.


This research group explores the interface of language and immigrant identity in Russian-Hebrew and Russian-German preschool and kindergarten children, looking at cross-language comparisons in two national contexts in an attempt to understand some of the complexity in preschool children’s identity and its relationship to language proficiency and language use. We focus on transitions in language development and social identity in early childhood among Russian immigrants to Germany and Israel.


Language acquisition and social identity both offer a window to biographical transitions from home to school, from parental to peer socialization, and from monolingualism to bilingualism. Language and Identity are highly complex constructs with multiple dimensions and multiple measures.

The guiding research questions were:

   • What are some of the linguistic indicators of ethnolinguistic and social identity which show evidence for convergence to/divergence from German/Israeli culture?

   • In what ways do children's attitudes to the target culture and its speakers show evidence of transition from Russian to German/Israeli culture?

Overall, notable similarity was found among immigrant preschool children in Germany and Israel with regard to language, identity and their interface. There were, however, clear differences in parents’ perceptions and aspirations of their children’s identities.

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