The Perceived Value of Bilingualism Among U.S. Parents

header divider

Posted on April 24, 2023 by childrenslearninginstitute

The role of language experience and local multilingualism


April 2023 (online) and December 2023 (print)


Translational Issues in Psychological Science

CLI Author:

Sarah Surrain, PhD


Theoretical models have posited that social contexts influence parental attitudes, which in turn modulate parental behaviors. The current study asks whether parental attitudes on bilingualism differ by local language context and whether parents who perceive bilingualism as more valuable are more likely to engage in activities with their child in their home language. We synthesize theoretical models with insights from family language policy in an ecological framework of bilingual development and test these relations in a U.S. sample of parents in 42 states. By capturing parents’ perceived value of bilingualism with an online survey (n = 319) and linking responses to U.S. census data, we explored relations among local multilingualism, perceptions of the value of bilingualism, and parents’ language practices. We found that parents who lived in more multilingual areas held more positive attitudes toward bilingualism, but the contribution of local multilingualism varied by language background. Local multilingualism mattered most for English-speaking parents who had never tried to learn another language, with those who lived in more multilingual areas reporting more positive perceptions of bilingualism. We also found that for parents of young children exposed to a non-English language (n = 136), those who valued bilingualism for their child were also more likely to participate in activities using their home language. These findings show how distal societal factors, such as local multilingualism, can have a cascading association with parents’ perceived value of bilingualism and parents’ language practices with their young children in the United States. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved)

Impact Statement:

We examine factors related to a positive perception of bilingualism among parents in the United States. Using survey and census data, we find that individuals with more exposure to multilingualism in their local area consider multilingualism as more valuable. For parents whose young children were exposed to multiple languages, positive perception of bilingualism predicted home language usage with their children. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved)


Surrain, S., & Luk, G. (2023). The perceived value of bilingualism among U.S. parents: The role of language experience and local multilingualism. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 9(4), 460-471.