Roma children and the inclusion of home languages: a case study in the south of France

Image: Steve Evans / (CC BY-NC 2.0)

As part of a mission to improve Roma children’s academic success in the south of France, Nathalie Auger first worked with Roma families for a year to better understand their linguistic and cultural experiences, with a view to including these in school activities.

Roma pupils sitting at desk

The Roma community has long been criticised for supposedly staying on the margins of society, being reluctant to attend school, and not using the language of instruction at home. A survey we conducted at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 with the centuries-old Roma community in the south of France shows, however, that:

  • the Roma community in the south of France speaks Northern Catalan, which – like any other language – supports learning;
  • the Roma community does not sanctify oral language in a way that would prevent the transition to the French written language;
  • the Roma community, as much as any other 21st-century household, cares about new media available in a variety of languages they speak/write (mainly French, Catalan and Castilian), such as blogs, social media, text messages or films;
  • there is an obvious continuity in the Romance languages they use, which could be an asset for schools and French language development, if students were taught to develop their language awareness and to transfer skills;
  • engaging parents and acknowledging their linguistic and cultural expertise is key to academic success.

These observations apply to all children who stay on the margins of the education system, be they allophones or not. Relying on the languages, variations and cultural practices of these children can help them develop academic skills in French (the language of schooling) without abandoning their identities.

In today’s world, where complex identities have become the norm, relying on this complexity is the key to academic success for all.

Nathalie Auger

Nathalie Auger is a professor of didactic linguistics for second languages at the Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3. She is the author of several works and websites in different languages.