Professor Audra I. Mockaitis

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A statistical fairytale

I recently needed to estimate my sample size for a survey. To come up with my magic number I first needed to know the population size, and so I began to search for official data. In this case I was interested in the Lithuanian diaspora population. In my search I came across some surprising data published by Lithuanian government institutions that left me scratching my head and wondering how it was possible to come up with such strange numbers. And so my story begins…

A tale of two websites

Since Lithuanian independence in 1990, the population has decreased by 845,000. In 1990 Lithuania’s population was 3.7 million; in 2017 it was 2.8 million, a decrease of 23% (EMN, 2017[1]).

According to the website “Migration in Numbers” by the European Migration Network (EMN) (, which presents statistics compiled via collaboration between six institutions[2], during the past seven years (2010-2016), there were 348,425 emigrants from Lithuania. The highest numbers have emigrated to the UK (164081), Ireland (35911) and Norway (24331) among others.

However, data published by the Lithuanian Department of Statistics (LDS) paint a different picture. In its 2014 publication “Lietuviai pasaulyje” (Lithuanians in the World), the LDS claims to have collected data over a 10 year period (2005-2014) from official census data in different countries on the numbers of permanent resident Lithuanians in those countries. Lithuanians were defined as people who: are Lithuanian citizens, and/or were born in Lithuania, and/or are of Lithuanian heritage, and/or whose native language is Lithuanian.

That’s a lot of and/ors. According to the LDS definition, non-Lithuanian citizens are not excluded from this list. This means that they counted anyone who identifies with Lithuania whether or not they were born in Lithuania and whether or not they speak Lithuanian as their native language. A candidate for this list might be someone who is of Lithuanian descent but does not speak the language. Another candidate might be someone who was born in Lithuania and is a Lithuanian citizen. Yet another candidate might be a non-Lithuanian citizen, whose native language is Lithuanian (such as a second generation foreign born national). Given such a wide net, we would expect the Lithuanian diaspora population to be extremely large. Yet, according to the LDS data, this is not the case. Take a look at these numbers. I have included just a sample of countries with larger Lithuanian populations:

stats table

Something doesn’t add up, right? The first line alone already tells a puzzling tale. It tells us that emigrants from Lithuania during the years 2010 to 2014 comprised more than a third (35%) of all Lithuanians living abroad[3]. Really?  In five years?

If we look at the data for the UK, in 2014 the LDS claims there were 123,593 broadly defined Lithuanians in the UK. EMS statistics show that 164,081 emigrants left Lithuania for the UK from 2010 to 2016. If we use 2014 as a cutoff for the LDS statistics, that leaves a difference of 40,488. In fact, 42265 Lithuanians did leave for the UK during 2015 and 2016, so these numbers are pretty close. However, the LDS data do not refer only to recent immigrants to the UK, but to the total numbers of Lithuanians residing in the country – anyone with a Lithuanian passport, anyone who speaks Lithuanian, and anyone who considers oneself to be Lithuanian. Shouldn’t there be more?

Let’s consider the USA example. Here the EMS data indicate only 35,703 Lithuanians in the USA, a number that is baffling. Just under 11,000 Lithuanians immigrated to the USA during the past seven years. Even if we remove the 2,366 people that moved there in the last two years, this means that Lithuanian immigrants have contributed to a rise in the US-Lithuanian population of around 30% from 2009-2014 (5 years) alone.

Let’s consider the statistics from the USA census data (the data that the LDS claim to have relied on). The 2000 US census data has the Lithuanian-American population at 659,992. Sure, not all of these hundreds of thousands speak Lithuanian, or hold a Lithuanian passport, but it is quite probable that, if they are included in the US census data, they identify as Lithuanian or are of Lithuanian heritage. So how has the LDS overlooked this in its calculation of Lithuanian residents in the USA – an eighteen fold difference?

bad data

Did the LDS not check sources? Did they really receive census data that counters available published census data? Was there no cross-checking?

I have not found many additional published sources on the diaspora population. If a reliable recent source exists, I would be grateful to learn about it.



[2] Ministry of the Interior, Statistics Lithuania, Migration department, Lithuanian Labour Exchange, European Migration Network (EMN), International Organization for Migration (IOM) Vilnius Office.

[3] From 2010 to 2014 there were 218952 total emigrants from Lithuania (EMS data).

Picture source:



On Language, Culture and Bilingualism

bilinguaI have had the fortune of teaching cross-cultural management in international business courses in a university context for two decades. As a native of the USA, I was raised speaking two languages – Lithuanian and English, in two relatively separate language communities, and studied several other languages in my youth and adulthood. The topics of language and culture are of great interest and relevance to me, and this interest has only increased after having my daughter, whom I raise as a bicultural bilingual.

Code-switching is the process of switching between two languages with relative ease, usually within a single conversation, or sentence. I have done this all of my life with my Lithuanian-American bilingual friends, and continue to do so with native English speakers of Lithuanian heritage in Australia (and I admit that I even do so with my daughter). It is a natural process that sometimes occurs instinctively, and always depends on to whom I am speaking, but I am always fully aware that I am doing it. For someone who is not fully bilingual in the two languages, code-switching may give the impression that the speakers are more comfortable with one or the other language, but this is not always the case. I am equally comfortable with speaking the two languages, however, the reason for doing so often lies in the context (for example whether or not there is a shared context with the speaker, or whether there is an unconscious desire to try to establish such shared meaning).

Cultural code-switching also occurs, when individuals change their behaviors in accordance with the norms of another culture. Although it depends on situational factors, the extent of disparity between cultures, familiarity with cultural norms and cultural values, psychological comfort and other factors [1], switching between cultures is common for individuals who are raised as biculturals. Our cultural values only fully take shape in our later adolescent and early adulthood years, yet children have a sense about cultural norms already from an early age.

As a community language school principal, I have been able to observe children’s behaviors in different situations. As one example, bilingual children may address Lithuanian-speaking adults and English-speaking adults (and children) in different ways, such as with formal forms of address despite insistence from some adults that they use informal forms – first names [2]. Although this is solely anecdotal, as it is not possible for me to actually measure the children’s comprehension of cultural norms, it has led me to think about some of the factors that affect bilingualism and the relationship between culture and language in bilingual families.

The relationship between language and culture is undisputed in the literature.  I hold a strong view that language is a primary mechanism for transferring cultural values and norms. We can certainly learn (about) another culture, but without knowledge of the language, I do not think it is possible to fully understand cultural context, nuance and norms of behavior. The more fluency a child has in a language, the easier the transfer of the culture associated with the language will be. Is it possible for a person to be bilingual but not bicultural? Yes.

Active bilinguals use the two languages regularly in their everyday lives [3]. There are varying degrees of bilingualism. Passive bilingualism or receptive bilingualism means that a person does not actively use the second language, but may understand it. This can occur in children who begin speaking a language at home, but then gradually (or suddenly) refuse to speak it as they gain more exposure to the mainstream language.  There are many reasons as to why this may occur, however, this does not mean that the language is lost, although some scholars do claim that passive bilinguals are at risk of losing the language. Children may hear the language at home but not produce it themselves; these children are less likely to speak the language to their own children, while active bilingual children from mixed language families are more likely to establish friendships with other active bilinguals and preserve the language themselves [4].

Scholars have empirically found that consistency in language use by parents is key to language acquisition and retention – it depends on parental effort and motivation. Children who seldom hear the language or whose parents do not use it at home will not use the language actively [5]. This is often difficult in households where only one parent speaks the minority language, because the child is aware that she or he can revert to the dominant language. Parents often lament that their child has decided not to speak the language, and thus they themselves revert to speaking English in the home. However, even if the language is not actively used by a child, consistent exposure (e.g., parental effort) to it ensures that it is retained and can be revived when the child is motivated to use the language [6].

Language and culture are transferred through socialization – from parent to child, within the language community, via consistent exposure. It is thus up to the parent – not the child – to preserve them. Children do not make informed decisions about language and culture use. But their linguistic and cultural environments are determined and shaped by the values, attitudes, beliefs (and behaviors) of the people who make up their environment.

Thus, do not worry about code-switching, mixing languages, accents or even total fluency in the language. The important thing to focus on by parents is to ensure that the child hears the language in a consistent manner on a regular basis.

Click here for some insight and advice about bilingualism in children by renowned psycholinguist François Grosjean.


[1] Molinsky, A. (2007). Cultural code-switching: The psychological challenges of adapting behavior in foreign cultural interactions. The Academy of Management Review, 32 (2): 622-640.

[2] In fact, in a cross-national study on forms of address, Lithuanian adults indicated the lowest preference among 22 countries for using first names to address someone in an authority position. See: Harzing, A.W., Mockaitis, A.I. et al. (2010). What’s in a Name? Cross Country Differences in Preferred Ways of Address for University Teachers. AIB Insights, 10 (3): 3-8.

[3] Grosjean, F. (2001). Life with Two Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

[4] De Houwer, A. (1999). Environmental factors in early bilingual development: the role of parental beliefs and attitudes.In G. Extra & L.Verhoeven, eds., Bilingualism and Migration. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter, 75-95

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kasuya, H. (1998). Determinants of language choice in bilingual children: The role of input. International Journal of Bilingualism, 2 (3): 327-346.