“Let them learn English”, but let’s learn another language, too

20 06 2009

I think that deep inside, when you strip away all the layers, each of us has a sense of fairness.  There is good-heartedness, generosity and kindness.  But it doesn’t always show, because sometimes we speak from some superficial, dogmatic layer which really isn’t us.  I write this criticism of some viewpoints about bilingual education in the U.S. in the spirit of fairness, with hopes to open eyes and minds.  But first I must vent.

A few days ago, the MSNBC blog for the Today Show posted a short piece about bilingual education for Hispanics.   It is good journalism, but the comments written by many readers really got to me.

I’m bothered by the underlying xenophobia of the comments.

I’m worried by the prejudice and unjustified fears.

I’m ashamed of the small-minded, “one language, one country” opinion.

I’m appalled by the unjustified fears that the U.S. is being overrun, just because it is seeing the largest wave of immigration in its history coming from speakers of a single foreign language.

I’m offended by the apparent mind-set that being an English speaker is somehow superior in the world, or should define a country of immigrants that has no official language.

I’m angered by the lack of sophisticated, progressive interest in the advances of education.  Education is handled by states and communities, not the U.S. government, and some communities obviously conceive of improving their schools and the country’s standing in the world, educationally speaking.

Read MSNBC’s blog post and the comments, then judge for yourself.  Since I have been multilingual from an early age, I guess I just don’t get it.  I think we should all be open to learning other languages.  Then perhaps people would not be so closed-minded.

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English’s days are numbered

8 06 2009

This post is (for me) a rare one on the subject of (and in the language of) the current, reigning lingua franca.  It is a radical perspective on the information provided in the book English Next by David Graddol.

The growth of usage of English as the language of international communication fosters complacency on the part of native English speakers.  Because of diminished focus on the teaching of second languages in the schools of English-speaking countries, future generations will face a competitive disadvantage in the world.

Acquiescence in the acceptance of English as a “world language” has cultural and political consequences in many countries of the world.  I suggest that the teaching of a neutral Romance-based second language (often called “auxiliary” or “artificial” languages) would be a strong asset in the education systems of the U.S. and U.K., for example.

Mandarin Chinese and Spanish threaten the position now held by English in global trade.  In the post-modern world, the position of English will not be as strong as it is now on the Internet (the so-called Web 2.0) and in Social Media.  At the present time, it is true that people from all over the world struggle with the predominance of English.  However, when the Web 3.0 arrives as the next evolutionary change, English may no longer be center stage.  This process of change may be completed in as little as 15-20 more years.

An early signal of change is the view of native English speakers in non-English speaking countries.  They are viewed a bit warily now, as many countries already have substantial numbers of near-fluent EFL (English as a foreign language) speakers.  Because English is such a commodity now, native English speakers viewed as more difficult to understand (for their non-locally-inflected accents), as much as for their cultural baggage.  In this regard, monolingual English speakers lose even more value in the world.  Finally, based on current lower birthrate patterns in English-speaking nations, the native speaker population is dropping slowly while in many non-English-speaking countries it continues to grow.  (Note: Based on immigration history, it has never been appropriate to count the entire populations of the U.S. and U.K. as fluent English speakers.)

This growth is especially true for Spanish and Spanish-speaking countries.  The numbers of native Spanish speakers in the world roughly equals those for English, but Spanish is poised to overtake English easily.  Because of immigration, there are already large Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S., for example.  Adding to its importance in the world, Spanish has now been declared the important national second language in Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, countries who recognize the importance of being able to communicate with their neighboring Spanish-speaking countries.

Furthermore, the importance of English on the Internet is already waning, as more and more localized language sources of information appear.  Even lesser-used languages are having a rebirth on the Web.

It is a fact that English will not be going away any time soon.  Even Latin still exists, but eventually Roman Catholicism stopped using it, too.  You get the point.