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Bilingualism and Biliteracy for All – A Chinese professor’s perspective

June 10, 2020

By Chan Lü

Dr. Lü is a professor at the University of Washington, my alma mater and the place I first studied Chinese. I still haven’t convinced my daughter to apply there, even though she’d be a 5th generation Husky! but I haven’t given up yet….

From: American Federation of Teachers

About one-third of children under age 8 in the United States have at least one parent who speaks a language other than English at home.1 And as of 2016, 9.6 percent of all U.S. public school students were identified as English language learners.2 It is obvious that the American student population is becoming increasingly multilingual.
This trend is often widely celebrated in other countries. But as scholars who have focused on an array of issues related to borders and democracy have noted, the United States has a complex history with bilingualism:

In many countries, the ability of children to speak more than one language is seen as important. Such is generally not the case in the United States. As sociolinguist Joshua Fishman and his coauthors have claimed, “Many Americans have long been of the opinion that bilingualism is ‘a good thing’ if it was acquired via travel (preferably to Paris) or via formal education (preferably at Harvard) but that it is a ‘bad thing’ if it was acquired from one’s immigrant parents or grandparents.”3

Fishman made that claim more than five decades ago, but it still rings true—if not quite as loudly—today. For instance, Richard Ruíz and other scholars contend that in the United States, speaking a language other than English continues to be perceived as a problem, which they term a “language-as-problem orientation.”4 Perhaps because of this perception, the burgeoning multilingualism of our nation’s children is challenging our current instructional practices and even more so our educational systems. Across the country, we lack the preparation, materials, supports, or infrastructure to handle our children’s linguistic diversity. Given the multiple benefits of speaking more than one language fluently,* we should actually celebrate this diversity—and we can.

Please read more here.

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