Guide Bilingualism in Schools and Society: Language, Identity, and Policy

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Firmly grounded in the analysis of empirical work with bilingual children and adults in various multilingual settings throughout the world, Bilingualism in Schools and Society is the ideal text for courses on bilingualism in language education programs. Sarah J.

Bilingualism in a Globalized World. The Politics of Bilingualism.

Heritage Language Education. Bilingualism and Identity. Multilingual Families. It is seen as important that Colombian school graduates develop a pluralist vision of the world, so that they are open to new ideas and have contact with different ways of thought and expression. The idea is that this recognition of linguistic and cultural diversity in our world may lead to recognition of the importance of tolerance and respect for the other.

However, in reality, particularly during the last few years, when bilingualism or bilingual education are referred to, the central focus is on one particular language - English. As Silvia Valencia 1 explains,. It is used by many The existence of other languages in different regions of the country is overlooked, particularly the languages of indigenous Colombian populations. The teaching of other modern languages e.

This is very true, especially if we think of the Ministry of Education M.

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This will contribute to the insertion of the country in the processes of universal communication, the global economy and cultural openness" M. The emphasis here is very clearly stated: the reference is only to English and the aim is competitivity in international markets, though there is an interesting reference to cultural openness.

The notion of a 'national bilingual programme 'brings to the fore the concept of a national languages policy, particularly in view of the recognition of Colombia as a multiethnic and pluricultural nation in the Colombian Political Constitution of Article 7. The recognition of the status of vernacular community languages as co-official with Spanish in the area where these are spoken and the implementation of bilingual education in these same regions gave rise to initial optimism in relation to the spread of bilingualism in the country.


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Although there has been some progress in the implementation of constitutional principles of linguistic and cultural diversity through the policy of ethnoeducation for the minority indigenous and Creole-speaking communities Pineda, , in reality bilingualism in internationally prestigious languages particularly Spanish-English bilingualism has been privileged. This is seen as providing access to a highly 'visible', socially-accepted form of bilingualism, leading to the possibility of employment in the global market-place. Colombia is not unique in this.

There have been voices raised in support of a more inclusive vision. Even though there is an urgent need to be competent in English, the strategy that you have decided on for the city cannot be limited to two languages. What is more important, it would stimulate work with other languages, including Spanish and indigenous languages. I think it is very important to pay attention to the voices of these Colombian academics, who are warning against an exclusive concern with one language of power and prestige, however important it may be on the international stage.

A multicultural and plurilingual nation needs a language policy which takes into account not only exolingual, but also endolingual concerns. In other words, we need to look both outwards towards a globalised world, as well as inwards to focus on local complexities. The question we can ask is, thus, how far bilingual education programmes for majority language speakers in Colombia today are actively helping towards the creation of a more understanding, a more tolerant society and not only providing a way to better jobs and a higher standard of living for their graduates?

If we look at how some bilingual schools see their mission we can see examples of different positionings in relation to issues of language and culture in these statements:. In the two last formulations we see evidence of an intercultural approach to bilingual education. The emphasis here seems to be on reciprocity, on inter-relationships. Both cultures benefit from the process.

Mockus maintains that those who come into contact with different cultures should value 'the tension' generated by the contact between these traditions and see this as "a mechanism which forces one to a certain degree of universality". According to Grosjean 31 , we all belong to a series of cultural networks sub-groups and sub-cultures even though we have had no contact with another majority or national culture, and we are all therefore necessarily "multicultural".

He defines a bicultural individual as someone who, "participates, at least in part, in the life of two majority cultures We may ask what exactly does this mean in practice. Can teachers really help their students towards becoming "intercultural speakers" Byram, , who are curious and open to other cultures, willing to question accepted cultural values, and aware of factors which may lead to misunderstandings among interlocutors from different cultural backgrounds, while being aware of their identity as Colombians?

Language policy and identity formation in Taiwan

For many years in Colombia, there has been little real concern about the implications of contact with other cultures. Teachers and parents whose children go to bilingual schools have tended to assume that a vision of cultural enrichment will result effortlessly from the contact with other languages and cultures. This view is exemplified in the following quotation from an article by Annie de Acevedo 62 in which she highlights the merits of bilingual education programmes for parents who want their children to become bilingual.

She states, "Learning another language opens the doors for them to other cultures and allows them to enrich themselves. In many well-established bilingual schools, there has been a noticeable tendency towards the adoption of an instrumental perspective, with a corresponding emphasis on the material and economic benefits of being bilingual in two internationally prestigious languages. Implications of cultural contact have traditionally been ignored, on the assumption that as students generally come from the dominant elite, there is no problem in this respect.

Nevertheless, clear references to interculturalism and multiculturalism can be found in the Curricular Guidelines for Foreign Languages, which were published by the Ministry of Education in Interculturalism is portrayed here as "a vision However, it is sometimes the case that knowledge of another culture is only developed at a superficial level, such as cultural celebrations involving different types of food, music, dress etc.

Bilingualism in Schools and Society : Sarah J. Shin :

However, they were less sure about how to actually put these visions into practice on a daily basis in the school context, and particularly in curricular areas such as Social Sciences. A similar observation was made by Hilda Buitrago in , in a study she conducted in an English-Spanish bilingual school in Cali. She noted that the lack of clear institutional policies with regard to cultural aspects led to confusion and improvisation among the teachers as to how to manage cultural matters in their daily classroom practice.

One specific area of difficulty regarding the treatment of cultural relations reported by many teachers working in bilingual schools relates to the use of foreign textbooks, usually designed for native speakers of English, for use in USA, Canada or Britain. She refers specifically to the theme of "Narraciones del Asombro" which has to do with myths and legends and is closely related to the notions of plurality, identity, and respect for differences, as related in narratives produced by Precolombian communities.

Although teachers and students proclaimed that they strongly agreed with these principles, and particularly valued the condition of Colombia as a multicultural nation, Laura gradually discovered that the reality was somewhat different. I will quote her actual words,. Notice especially the use of the diminutive "indiecitos" indicating undervaluing of this type of narrative. In fact, some of the students said that these stories were from a different cultural background, obviously showing that they were unaware of the dominance of people of mestizo background in Colombia.

They tended to emphasize through pictures and commentary, poverty, technological backwardness and violence. This vision was in line with accelerated developmental paradigms which undermine the educational attempts to consolidate the students' self esteem through the construction of a solid identity in relation to their own reality. When I asked her for more detail about the portrayal of Colombia in these textbooks, used for Social Science by Colombian students in seventh and eighth grade, Laura said that the images that predominated were pictures of massacres and drug mules.

Furthermore, there was considerable space devoted to Colombia's world economic position based on the proceeds of drug trafficking. There was only a very brief reference to the coffee industry or Colombian fashion or tourism.

Bilingualism in Schools and Society

No wonder that the students felt ashamed to be Colombian and wanted to distance themselves from this positioning! As teachers and educators of future Colombian citizens, I think we need to seriously reflect on the wisdom of providing evidence of negative images of Colombian culture and identity from a foreign point of view, while paying lip service to the value of interculturalism and respect for difference at national level. These mixed messages may well create cultural disorientation, or anomie at best, or cultural rejection at worst.

An important general factor to take into consideration in bilingual programmes which necessarily involve some degree of contact with other cultures is how far the teacher is culturally attuned to the students, especially in the initial stages of schooling. This awareness will involve taking into account the values commonly associated with foreign cultures by parents and relatives. The advantages of employing native speakers of the foreign or second language in terms of models for language acquisition, particularly in the area of pronunciation, must be weighed up against their ability to relate to the children in their care, both linguistically and culturally.

In this respect, the Canadian early immersion programmes have always insisted on the need for teachers of the initial grades to be bilingual in both French and English, so that they can understand and help children in difficulty. What has not often been stressed is the need for intercultural understanding. Many teachers dealing with cultural aspects in their everyday practice are often not very aware of the implications of such aspects for their learners. They may be native speakers of the foreign or second language and yet not be "intercultural speakers" Byram, Thus, the first step is to raise their awareness of these issues.

Byram suggest various ways that intercultural consciousness can be developed in bilingual classrooms such as, comparative analysis in pedagogically-appropriate ways of how different language express different cultures; understanding by the teacher of ways in which the explicit introduction of cultural elements from other cultures relativises and challenges what is taken for granted in the national or state curriculum; and that teachers should have developed "intercultural speaker intuitions" Byram, The expression "losing one's identity" is quite common in everyday speech.

Sometimes people worry about the possibility of losing their identity when they come into contact with a new cultural system, as if 'identity' were a valuable possession which can be 'lost' and presumably can be 'found'.

Sarah J. Shin

However, it is not quite so simple, as Barbour 42 concludes. He observes that "Human beings often have complex, multiple identities -local, regional, familial, religious In parallel to their complex multiple identities, individuals also display complex and multi-faceted language use". Poststructuralists draw attention to the idea that identities are constructed rather than possessed on multiple dimensions e. Thus, identities are not static objects which can be lost and found, but are fluid and complex, changing and evolving over time in accordance with the influence of the different experiences we engage in.

In a recent article about bilingualism and identity Kanno following Taylor takes identity to mean "A person's understanding of whom they are". This understanding depends crucially on what others think of us.


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In other words, identity can be seen as socially constructed. In the case of bilinguals, as they inhabit different language communities, they often receive very different self-images from various cultural mirrors Kanno, This is when the problem of anomie or cultural disorientation may set in and the bilingual or multilingual person may feel they do not belong either here or there.