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13 Jul 2024 19:00
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  •   Home > News > International

    Migrant families are using dubbed versions of Bluey to help maintain their kids' connection to their cultural heritage

    After being dubbed into more than 20 languages, Bluey is helping migrant families around Australia remain connected to their language and culture.

    Known as Bù lu yi in China, Blæja in Iceland and Bluji in Lithuania, Bluey has proven so wildly popular internationally that it's been dubbed into more than 20 languages.

    After capturing the hearts of children, adults and dogs worldwide it's been deemed a "cultural ambassador" for Australia.

    Back home, the cartoon series is now also helping migrant families remain connected to their heritage.

    Jing, who migrated to Melbourne from China in 2019, encourages her son Yi Chen to watch Bluey dubbed into Mandarin. 

    Yi Chen was born in Melbourne and mostly speaks English but Jing is determined to keep him connected to his Chinese heritage by raising him bilingual and speaks to him exclusively in her mother tongue.

    "When people first see him, they will recognise him as being from Asia, so this is his first identity," she said.

    "It's unimaginable if he doesn't understand his parent's culture and where he's from.

    "How is he supposed to accept himself and his identity otherwise?"

    Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows more than one-third of Australian residents like Jing and her Malaysian-Australian husband were born overseas.

    And according to the 2021 census, about 5.8 million people speak a language other than English at home.

    Bluey's age-appropriate themes, snack-sized episodes, and accurate Mandarin translation made it an easy choice as a program for her active five-year-old to watch.

    "He doesn't like to sit down and watch something," Jing said.

    But she said he was more willing to watch Bluey because it was already part of his environment.

    Growing up Chinese in Australia

    Although there are plenty of Mandarin television programs from China for her son to watch, Jing said she wanted Yi Chen to have shared interests with his peer group.

    For many migrants Bluey is a quintessential lesson in Australian sayings, dynamics, and culture.

    "It's very important for his confidence and sense of integration," Jing said.

    "When [Bluey] plays games, they play similar or the same games to what my son plays."

    The "cute" illustrations of Vegemite bottles in Season Three's Pavlova episode even prompted Jing to try the polarising spread which she concluded was "not bad".

    When her husband is around, they switch to watching Bluey in English, which she says can also help multicultural families learn local English.

    Seeing the cartoon dubbed in Mandarin makes Jing feel represented too.

    "When I watch the translated version, I picture Bluey's family as a Chinese family who's migrated to and living in Australia," she said. 

    Sauerkraut and meat pies

    Melbourne resident Lisa-Marie Hinton is another mother whose children watch a dubbed version of Bluey — in their case German.

    She speaks with Australian-born sons Lenny, 4, and Henry, 2, exclusively in the language of her homeland so they can become bilingual and communicate with German relatives who don't speak English.

    Along with Bluey, Lisa-Marie ensures that more than 90 per cent of the books and programs they watch and listen to are in German except for when their father, who only speaks English, is around.

    Lisa-Marie said it was part of preserving their German customs, like taking off one's shoes before entering the home and the types of meals they prepare.

    "[Lenny] loves sauerkraut and vinegared gherkin," she said.

    "[He] is actually very proud he's German … he loves that he's a mix."

    Like Jing, Bluey's Australian references have left a mark on Lenny too.

    "Lenny calls me his 'mate' sometimes, which we definitely would not choose to say in Germany," Lisa-Marie said.

    "But he loves the word 'mate', and he asked me recently to make a pie which is really unique because I've never ever made a pie and I probably wouldn't choose to eat a pie myself.

    "Obviously, we love Australia and accept that culture and want them to grow up with that but for me it's really important that they understand where they come from."

    Lisa-Marie's goal is for her boys to flow seamlessly between speaking English and German, something Lenny has started doing.

    "He can from one minute speak English to his dad, then speak to me in German," she said.

    Henry has started following easy instructions too, even with her "strong south German accent".

    Mental load of preserving language

    Lisa-Marie encourages Lenny to practice speaking German by pretending she doesn't understand English despite having lived in Australia for 14 years.

    But she sometimes slips up and catches herself speaking English mid-sentence because she thinks in English and reverting back to German is hard.

    "[Speaking multiple languages is] actually a lot of effort and I can see why a lot of people give up on that," she said. 

    "That's why it's so important to have that option to turn on shows in German."

    Lisa-Marie is currently on the waitlist for a German kindergarten and would like to see more bilingual schools open in Australia.

    One day she would also like to send her sons to school in Germany for a term for language immersion.

    For now she remains their teacher, which can be hard.

    "Sometimes Lenny gets very frustrated, and he hates that I push him into speaking German but there's no other option," she said.

    Joseph Lo Bianco, a professor of language and literacy education from the University of Melbourne, said preventing language attrition among migrant families took a lot of effort. 

    "Within one to two generations, there's a struggle. By three generations we see enormous language shift across many communities," he said.

    Professor Lo Bianco said children of migrant parents were under enormous pressure to stop using their home language as they learned English because of a desire to fit in.

    He said most schools only offered a maximum of three hours a week of classes in a limited number of languages so it was up to parents and extra-curricular programs to make up that shortfall.

    Home language policy

    Professor Lo Bianco said parents could adopt a policy that designated a particular time, room, or activity where only the home language was spoken.

    He also said the routine needed to be enjoyable and predictable so children knew to expect that at dinnertime, for example, only Greek could be spoken.

    "Children should see [the policy] is validated by everybody around them," he said.

    He said as children matured and started to expand their ability to articulate themselves with more complexity in English, it was important the parents were able to keep that level of expression up in their home language.

    He said parents needed to ensure their language skills, vocabulary and expressions remained contemporary the longer they lived in a new country.

    Professor Lo Bianco recommended using online streaming, apps, and books so parents could introduce new words, concepts, and activities to expand their vernacular in the home language.

    "Young people prefer to sound like their peers rather than their parents," he said.

    He said learning a language also involved learning new cultural norms.

    Trying to focus on both aspects at the same time could be challenging so the Australian backdrop to Bluey was useful.

    "If you're hearing Bluey and recognise cultural references then you can focus on language development," he said.

    "Bluey is a wonderful asset because it's centred in Australia and gives children the sense that multilingualism belongs here."

    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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