Being multilingual should be a plus, not something that diminishes your identity

By April Xu Xiaoyi, Pomona College

Schools shouldn’t make us reject our first language in favour of a more dominant language. Instead, let’s embrace multilingualism

By April Xu Xiaoyi, Pomona College |

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Imagine sitting in a classroom, trying desperately to understand your instructor but being unable to.

Linguistic barriers in school, left unaddressed due to inadequate education policies, can cause students a number of problems later in life. Not only can they result in poor academic performance and therefore hinder future prospects, they can also be very traumatising. Students may experience a feeling of inferiority in speaking their native language.

Because language is an integral part of a person’s identity, that feeling of inferiority can often diminish his or her ethnic pride and result in a false notion that the dominant language and culture of a society is superior.

However, switching completely from speaking a minority language to society’s dominant language shouldn’t be the sole objective of language learning, because it undermines the advantages of bi/multilingualism, especially in today’s multicultural society.

Theories in comparative politics suggest that languages can be a divisive force, while a single national language will unify a country. Accordingly, some countries consider the use of two or more official languages may have created friction among different communities. However, these theories overlook the above-mentioned issues at the individual level, and may in fact be contributing to the problem.

Local, national, and international leaders need to work together to create a global climate where bi/multilingualism is viewed as a valuable asset. Educators and policymakers can play an important role, but so can students and parents, who are most affected by the success and failure of education programmes.

At the national and international levels, those in power should allow for language classes to be tailored to each country’s circumstances. Additionally, leaders and organisations should make sure that relevant laws are implemented effectively.

Sometimes, even when legislation is passed which helps to promote the notions of bilingualism and cross-cultural understanding, opponents of bilingual education will find loopholes in these laws. In doing so, they manage to avoid making sure that English language learners are getting an education that is free from linguistic barriers. It’s important to monitor and update guidelines to avoid these loopholes.

Everyone should be able to empower themselves by learning the languages that will help them achieve social mobility, without having to compromise their own identity. This, after all, is one of the core promises of education.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge