In recent years, an increasing number of families have gone abroad to help their school-aged children gain international education credentials and to provide them with an opportunity to learn English as a global language. This phenomenon, called “early study abroad,” has been very popular among middle-class Asian families who use the overseas experiences and linguistic capital gained through transnational migration for their class maintenance and upward mobility (Park & Bae, 2009).
One of the transmigrant groups in Orellana et al.’s (2001) study is the Korean “parachute kids," school-age children who continue to reside in the U.S. either on their own or with a “homestay” family following their parents’ return to Korea. The parents migrate chiefly for the purpose of educating their children in the U.S. and return to Korea as soon as the children are placed in their new living arrangement (the name “parachute kids” comes from the way the parents seem to fly over the destination and drop off the children without actually landing). These families hope to use the knowledge and networks their children acquire in the U.S. as entry into the country and to broaden their economic fields of operation (Orellana et al., 2001). In addition, as Orellana et al. (2001) point out, having children attend school in the U.S. also increases the children’s chances of studying at U.S. colleges and universities and avoids the intense competition for a limited number of slots in top Korean universities.
Whereas “parachute kids” usually live and study in the host country without their parents, some children migrate and live with their mothers in the host country while the fathers stay behind. Huang & Yeoh (2005) show that educational migration of children from China to Singapore takes the form of school- age children (between the ages of seven and 18) accompanied by their mothers during part or all of the course of their study. These mothers—popularly referred to in Singapore as “study mothers”—not only have to negotiate their transnational family situations having left spouse and other family members behind, but also must maintain their lives as de facto single parents in Singapore. A similar pattern is found with the Korean “kirogi” mothers who must negotiate their new role as sole parents overseas (Lee, 2010). (Kirogi, which means “wild goose” in Korean, refers to the bird’s migratory behavior.) Education in English and the accumulation of cultural capital are key factors which drive these families to endure prolonged separation (Waters, 2005).
As transnational families operate in multilingual spaces, their experiences are influenced by competing language ideologies. In their study of Korean early study abroad students and families in Singapore, Park & Bae (2009) showed that in Korean society, dominant ideologies of English co-exist with new ideologies that attribute great capital value to Chinese. Global English is on the rise, but so is global Chinese, and an increasing number of Koreans consider Singapore’s multilingual environment and policies to be conducive to developing both their English and Chinese skills. In addition, while most Korean families regard Inner Circle varieties of English (e.g., American English) to be most desirable, their being situated in Singapore led them to also value local varieties of English (Singlish, or Singaporean English) in their interactions with Singaporeans. For example, Park & Bae note that one of the students they interviewed, Jiyeong, who was attending a local primary school, expressed that not using Singlish in interaction with local students carried significant risks in her interaction with Singaporeans (2009: 374):
Bae: Do you feel Singlish affects you a lot?
Jiyeong: When I speak with local kids I use Singlish. And when I speak with an American I use an American pronunciation.
Bae: So you’re almost like a Singaporean, then?
Jiyeong: When I use an American pronunciation, the kids sometimes don’t understand me and it’s a bit awkward. If I try to sound elaborate [baleum gullimyeon (lit: “roll one’s tongue”)] they think I’m being pretentious.
Bae: So you use Singlish with Singaporean kids. Don’t you get confused?
Jiyeong: At first I used to speak American style. But now I use Singlish, and I taught them some Korean so now they like it.
As seen in this excerpt, transnationals’ language practices are shaped by both global ideologies and local circumstances. That Jiyeong uses a localized variety of English to interact with Singaporeans (and even teaches them Korean) while holding on to dominant ideologies of Inner Circle English is a good example of the kind of linguistic and cultural adaptations made by transnationals as they negotiate their multilingual identities.
Next, I turn to a discussion of bilingualism in popular music.