“My mom works in a restaurant here at the market, so she doesn’t need Czech”: managing the (non-)acquisition of the majority language in an ethnolinguistic minority community

  • Tamah ShermanEmail author
  • Jiří Homoláč
Original Paper


For immigrants, linguistic competence in the national or minority language is frequently viewed as a tool for emancipation, protection, and integration. However, in contexts where immigrants primarily work in ethnic-economy blue-collar professions, language acquisition is less likely to function as a solution to adaptation-related problems. This paper addresses one such case: the Vietnamese in the Czech Republic. Attention is devoted to the questions of whether and how 1st-generation Vietnamese acquire Czech, and whether and how their language acquisition and use is influenced by state policy, represented by the CEFR A1 examination requirement for permanent residence. Using the language management approach (Fairbrother et al. in The language management approach: a focus on research methodology, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, 2018), which reflects connections between the management of language issues and the management of socioeconomic ones, we consider the activities of the relevant actors, state institutions and individual immigrants, in relation to the problem of ‘insufficient Czech’ on the part of 1st-generation Vietnamese. Based on the analysis of semi-structured interviews, it is revealed that the A1-level exam does not fulfill its intended aims. It neither enables easier communication with state offices nor supports integration. Individuals only acquire minimal job-related vocabulary, for other needs they use language brokers, upon whom they become dependent. Post-exam, they stop learning and use Czech only minimally. Overall, the time-consuming jobs done by the Vietnamese, the minimal language requirements for these jobs, and the network of available language brokers mean that these individuals design different adjustments to the problem of ‘insufficient Czech’ than the other relevant actors.


Language and socio-economic management Language testing regimes Ethnic economy Czech Vietnamese 



We would like to thank everyone involved in the research process (interviewees, interpreters and various non-profit organization employees) for their willingness to participate, Kamila Sladkovská for providing valuable information, our colleagues Petr Kaderka, Marián Sloboda and Ivo Vasiljev (in memoriam) for their unending support during this project, and Vít Dovalil, Jiří Nekvapil and Julia Sherman for their comments on the text. Work on this project was supported by the Czech Science Foundation, project no. GA14-02509S.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics, Faculty of ArtsCharles UniversityPrague 1Czech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Stylistics and Sociolinguistics, Czech Language InstituteCzech Academy of SciencesPrague 1Czech Republic
  3. 3.Akcent CollegePrague 4Czech Republic

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