LINGUIST List 32.223

Thu Jan 14 2021

Review: Applied Linguistics: Ganassin (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 18-Aug-2020
From: Teresa Ong <>
Subject: Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Sara Ganassin
TITLE: Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools
SUBTITLE: More than One Way of Being Chinese?
SERIES TITLE: Languages for Intercultural Communication and Education
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Teresa Wai See Ong, Griffith University


In a migratory context, migrant and minority communities always demonstrate strong efforts in maintaining their languages and cultures through the setting up of community language schools. This situation is similar for the migrant and minority communities in the UK where community language schools are responsible for providing learning opportunities to the children and promoting a sense of identity. Narrowing down to the Chinese ethnic community, it is estimated that there are 630,000 living in the UK, which is considered the largest within the European region (Latham & Wu, 2013). As there is a growing international interest in Chinese language education and culture, this book, Language, Culture and Identity in Two Chinese Community Schools, written by Sara Ganassin, a lecturer at Newcastle University in the UK, presents “the social, political, and educational role of community language education” based on a study of two Chinese community schools in two different areas of England (Ganassin, 2020, p. 1). The book consists of eight chapters alongside a preface and four appendices.

Conceptualising the study within the field of intercultural studies, this book focuses on investigating the importance of Chinese community schools in England through pupils’, teachers’ and parents’ lived experiences. Interculturality is defined as the way/approach of people exhibiting their cultural identities in their daily interactions with other people’s cultural identity (Zhu, 2014, 2016). In this study, Ganassin uses the lens of ‘interculturality’ to interpret the various positions concerning language, culture, and identity in the context of Chinese community schools. She develops two arguments, which she presents in the introductory chapter. First, she argues that by presenting the lived experiences of pupils, teachers, and parents of community schooling, the schools can demonstrate how they become linguistic and cultural spaces for the pupils, teachers, and parents to construct their own identity. Second, she challenges the traditional view of community schools as ‘ethnic enclaves’ (c.f. Francis et al., 2009); in this study, she demonstrates that community schools are valuable learning spaces for pupils, teachers, and parents to gather for intercultural awareness and development.

Ganassin continues her study in Chapter 2 by reviewing the literature concerning Chinese language and Chinese community schools. The term ‘Chinese’ refers to Chinese ethnicity, Chinese language, Chinese culture, or Chinese identity (Huang, 2015; Li, 2014). Nevertheless, Ganassin clarifies that this study adopts a view based on the construction of Chinese culture and identity that is not affiliated with a political entity, but rather refers to the complexity of the Chinese world in its various dimensions. Hence, the representation of ‘Chineseness’ is diverse and coexists at both the macro and micro levels. She also discusses the term ‘Chinese language’ as an umbrella term to refer to the seven (He, 2008) or eight (Zhu & Li, 2014) mutually unintelligible varieties of language spoken by the Chinese community. However, in this study, she uses the term ‘Mandarin’ to refer to the variety that is taught at the community schools. For the three other southern varieties (Cantonese, Hakka, and Hokkien) that play an important role in the study, she calls them according to their respective names. In the last section of the chapter, Ganassin discusses the term ‘Chinese community schools’, which refers to voluntary organisations that employ a curriculum to teach Chinese language (either Mandarin or Cantonese) and transmit traditional and contemporary Chinese culture (Wang, 2017). Traditionally, Chinese community schools outside of Greater China have always taught Cantonese because Cantonese is the lingua franca for Chinese migrant communities but today, many shifted to teach Mandarin due to the increasing social and economic values Mandarin offers.

Moving to Chapter 3, Ganassin talks about her study design. She chooses two Chinese community schools that were located in two different areas of England. When the data was collected, Apple Valley School had 65 students while Deer River School had 90 students. Both schools adopted the same textbooks, Zhongwen series, which were compiled by the College of Chinese Language and Culture of Jinan University. A total of 23 pupils, eight parents, two head teachers, and eight teachers participated in the study. Data consisted of interviews with the participants (one-to-one and focus group), researcher’s observation in twelve classrooms, fieldnotes, and visual methods. In total, 14 months were spent in the field. The data were subsequently analysed under four broad categories: community education, Chinese language, culture, and identity.

Chapters 4 to 7 report the findings. In Chapter 4, Ganassin explores the reasons why pupils attended Chinese community schools and parents’ and teachers’ understandings of Chinese community education. She found that pupils consider the learning of Mandarin as an asset for their future while parents suggest that there is a connection between language learning and affiliation towards Chinese culture and identity development. In addition, the schools have created a social and interactive space for all pupils, teachers, and parents. In Chapter 5, Ganassin looks at how the schools constructed a space for the three groups of participants to understand the value of Chinese language education. The analysis demonstrates that to many pupils, Mandarin does not have a significant family/emotional value; instead they construct a complex vision that encompasses Mandarin and heritage languages they speak at home. There are also conflicting values found in parents and teachers who place strong emphasis on the standard variety of Mandarin taught to the pupils. In Chapter 6, Ganassin investigates how Chinese culture is constructed within the three groups of participants in the context of the community schools. The findings show that all three groups differ in their expectation of the teaching and learning of Chinese culture. The pupils hope to learn about culture in real life situations while the teachers are more concerned about teaching traditional Chinese values and beliefs. On the other hand, the parents are keen about their children learning Chinese culture at schools because schools are considered as a supportive community space for learning. In Chapter 7, Ganassin examines the pupils’ construction of identities with a particular focus on language and culture. Her examination shows that their identities are “not constructed and negotiated exclusively” around the factors of language, culture, and relationships (Ganassin, 2020, p. 144). Rather, they gain self-awareness and develop intercultural learning through both community and mainstream schools.

The last chapter in this book is Chapter 8. It provides a summary of the findings and draws the conclusion. To reiterate, the aim of this study was to examine the role of Chinese community schools as an intercultural educational space. Thus, by focusing on pupils’, teachers’, and parents’ experiences at two community schools, the findings have offered new insights into understanding the “complexity of concepts of ‘language’, ‘culture, and ‘identity’ in the context of community education and, more broadly in migratory contexts” (Ganassin, 2020, p. 148). The book ends by proposing a framework for conducting ethnographic research in the context of language community schools, which can also be applied to other multilingual research contexts.


In this modernised and globalised era, many ethnic communities, whether minority or majority, are often seen migrating across the globe. A majority group may become a minority group when settling in its host country and vice-versa. When the group’s position changes, their identity changes too. In addition, the group is usually seen seeking efforts to maintain and transmit their culture and language to the younger generation because they are linked to the group’s family/ancestral history and roots. In other words, the relationship between language, culture, and identity are inseparable; they are important assets for any ethnic communities in the world, whether minority or majority.

In the case of the Chinese community in the UK, even though some of its members are Overseas Chinese who have migrated for the second or third time, they are all still keen about maintaining their Chinese culture, language, and identity, which is demonstrated in Ganassin’s study. Situating her study within the theory of interculturality, Ganassin began investigating the role of community language education through lived accounts of three groups of participants from two Chinese community language schools that are located in two different areas in England. The three groups of participants were pupils, teachers, and parents. Her findings, as reported above, have successfully shown that the relationship between culture, language, and identity is complex yet closely connected, and community language schools are considered as safe social spaces for promoting and instilling Chinese values and traditions in the pupils.

Ganassin’s findings have also demonstrated that despite the Chinese community being one of the largest communities in the world, those who participated in her study did not forget about their roots when they moved to the UK. Instead, they continued to pass their heritage onto their children. In the community language schools, they were seen constructing their identity through interactions and encounters with other Chinese from different geographical backgrounds. As a result, they formed a ‘new’ identity that derives under a broad umbrella term of ‘Chineseness’. This ‘new’ identity is fluid and changeable, but new approaches have been used for engagement and social inclusion of all ethnic Chinese. Thus, they acted as an exemplary model for other minority and migrant communities, especially when political tensions between countries are increasing and causing uncertainties for ‘new’ communities in host countries.

In the final chapter, Ganassin proposed a framework for researching interculturality in community language schools. The framework consists of three domains (Ganassin, 2020, p. 150): (1) an interdisciplinary ‘bricolage’ theoretical approach, (2) researcher reflexivity and analysis for the praxis of researching multilingually, and (3) the role of the researcher’s ethnical stance and ideological orientation. I find the framework useful for future research, not only in the field of community language schools but multilingualism or for adaptation to other similar frameworks. Ganassin’s addition of the researcher’s own ethnical stance and ideological orientation to the framework is a vital aspect for ethnographic research. When a researcher goes to the field, he/she sometimes forgets their position as an insider or outsider. This situation may cause confusion resulting in the researcher facing ethical issues in the field and during data interpretation and analysis. Therefore, the inclusion of the researcher’s role in the framework will constantly be a significant reminder for researchers conducting their fieldwork.

Overall, the book achieved its aim and brought further insightful understanding to the interrelationship between culture, language, and identity in the Chinese community in the UK. Although the findings do not directly point to aspects of language maintenance and language revitalisation, they show signs of strong perseverance and determination from the participants, in particular the pupils and their construction of identity. Hence, the book will bring awareness to those reading, especially to the minority/migrant communities who face increasing challenges to integrate and assimilate in their host countries.


Francis, B., Archer, L., & Mau, A. (2009). Language as capital, or language as identity? Chinese complementary school pupils’ perspectives on the purposes and benefits of complementary schools. British Educational Research Journal, 35(4), 519-538.

Ganassin, S. (2020). Language, culture and identity in two Chinese community schools: More than one way of being Chinese? Multilingual Matters.

He, A. W. (2008). Chinese as a heritage language: An introduction. In A. W. He & Y. Xiao (Eds.), Chinese as a heritage language: Fostering rooted world citizenry (pp. 1-12). University of Hawaii Press.

Huang, S. C. (2015). National identity (re)construction and negotiation and cosmopolitanism in the intercultural study-abroad context: Student sojourners from Taiwan in the UK (Unpublished doctoral thesis). Durham University.

Latham, K., & Wu, B. (2013). Chinese immigration into the EU: New trends, dynamics and implications. Europe China Research and Advice Network.

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Wang, D. (2017). Developing intercultural competence through cultural activities in London Chinese complementary schools. In T. Jin & F. Dervin (Eds.), Interculturality in Chinese language education (pp. 131-150). Palgrave Macmillan.

Zhu, H. (2014). Exploring intercultural communication: Language in action. Routledge.

Zhu, H. (2016). ‘Where are you from?’ Interculturality and interactional practices. In A. Komisarof, & H. Zhu (Eds.), Crossing boundaries and weaving intercultural work, life, and scholarship in globalising universities (pp. 147-159). Routledge.

Zhu, H., & Li, W. (2014). Geopolitics and the changing hierarchies of the Chinese language: Implications for policy and practice of Chinese language teaching in Britain. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 326-339.


Teresa Wai See Ong holds a PhD in sociolinguistics from Griffith University in Australia. Since graduation, she has been actively publishing on issues related to Chinese community language maintenance, language planning and policy, and linguistic landscapes in Malaysia and Singapore. She is currently co-writing about family language policy in Malaysia and South Africa.

Page Updated: 14-Jan-2021