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剖析双语教育的难题 Giving the Un-Languaged Voice

Deslenguada: [Spanish] un-languaged. 

Imagine sitting in a classroom, trying desperately to understand your instructor but failing completely to do so.

Linguistic barriers for children, when insufficiently addressed due to inadequate education policies for language learners, are problematic in various ways. Not only do linguistic barriers hinder one’s advancement prospects by causing poor academic performance, they also create traumatizing psychological effects, including a feeling of inferiority in speaking one’s native language. Because language is an integral part of one’s identity, that feeling of inferiority has, in many cases, diminished one’s ethnic pride and resulted in false idolization of the dominant language and culture as superior. However, transitioning completely from speaking a minority language to society’s dominant language, as advocated by many immersion-based, transitional language policies, should not be the sole objective, for among other reasons, it undermines the unique advantages of bi/multilingualism in our increasingly multicultural global environment.

A significant factor that explains inadequacies in related policies is unfavorable attitudes towards bi/multilingualism. Theories in comparative politics suggest that languages can be a divisive force that jeopardizes nationalism, while a single national language serves unifying purposes. Accordingly, some countries consider the use of two or more official languages to have created considerable difficulties for causing not only inefficiencies in government operations, but also rivalry and friction among different linguistic communities. However, these language ideologies overlook the aforementioned issues at the individual level, and may be troublesome in themselves by directly contributing to the problem.

Local, national, and international leaders need to collaborate on shaping a global climate where bi/multilingualism is viewed as a valuable asset. In addition to working directly with educators and policy makers, local stakeholders should inspire further actions from the civil society in voicing their direct concerns. Importantly here, students and parents, who are most affected by the success and failure of education programs, must themselves actively participate: class action suits have worked well in the past in advancing these individuals’ interests in multiple regions. 

At the national and international levels, those in power should encourage innovative ideas in curriculum design that can be tailored to each country’s own circumstances. Additionally, leaders and organizations should ascertain that relevant laws are implemented effectively through periodic evaluations. For instance, although the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision Lau v. Nichols (1974) and subsequent legislation have resulted in substantial improvements in promoting the notions of additive bilingualism and cross-cultural understanding, opponents of bilingual education frequently exploit certain ambiguities of the legal text. In doing so, they manage to eschew responsibilities in ensuring that English language learners can access meaningful education opportunities free from linguistic barriers. To avoid these loopholes, updating and specifying guidelines to accommodate changing conditions are key.

Language policies advanced by such collaborative endeavors can play impactful roles in fostering bi/multilingualism. Not only so, by empowering the formerly “un-languaged” to achieve social mobility without compromising their own identities, the recommended actions are instrumental in fulfilling one of the core promises of education.

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