At Emory University, I took a socio-linguistic class taught by Dr. Tamasi. Our biggest discussions was often about how common it is for many immigrants to make a language shift and assimilate to English by the second or third generation in America. We typically discussed the debate behind bilingual and monolingual policies, bilingual education, and the absence a standard English in America (yet we keep pushing it on people!) .
The discussion of bilingual education was again brought to my attention while I was in my English course that focused on Multi-lingualism.
I, as many of you guys can probably guess, fall into the third generation that typically suffers a monolingual shift in America. Many would wonder, why are families so likely to shift? Why not continue to teach your kids the language of your home country or heritage?
In my case, like many others, my family was in a way pushed towards shifting. When my aunt started elementary school she was bilingual (she spoke English and Japanese). However, when my aunt would use Japanese in school, this made the teachers grow quite upset. They couldn't understand her, so they didn't like it. After a couple incidences, the school angrily called my grandparents and told her that she needed to speak English only in school. I strongly believe my Babka (grandma), who is from Japan, took this greatly to heart. Today, if you asked my aunt, she will tell you that she forgot Japanese, and my mom, the youngest of my Babka's children, never learned it.
When it came to me I learned Japanese as a toddler since I was always with my Babka. However, she would have me read every day and listen to English tapes. She'd often say things like, "Jalyn I want you to go read with your tapes. I can't teacher you much in English right, but one day you'll be smart enough to teach me."
I literally thought, "Babka I could do this all day in school... I want Japanese at home".
So why is it that the school system is so discouraging for bilingual education? Is it because of political interest? Nationalism? Feelings of unrest towards immigration?
I truly admire Motha's proposal in her book Race, Empire, and English Language Teaching in the United States. "Terrain of English can no longer be seen as benign...Must empire and racism inhibit the teaching of English? (xxii)". In her writing she calls on teachers to make sure they have more of a critical awareness of the pro's and cons of teaching English; Teachers should be able to pass on to their students the sufficient knowledge so that English learners can "make their own decisions about their own acquisition.(xxii)"
I am glad I know English, but It angers me that the American idea of English literally killed the ability to speak Japanese amongst my family, and many others. Did my aunts teachers not think it through when they called my grandparents encouraging my aunt to only use English? My goodness..
Yes, I understand that heritage languages can preserved by heritage programs, bilingual newspapers, bilingual readings, the internet, etc. However, support in the public school system and ESL programs would be of big help too. Instead of converting the students to English, why not think of teach it as, adding the ability of speak English into their students vocabulary of language?
I love the fact that Motha targets the English teachers! Typically, people fight in vain to push bilingual education that the government has a trend of rejecting over the recent years. Motha's proposal is simple enough to help people see the non-biased picture of what English is actually capable of. It is a idea that can be pushed for NOW. No governmental policies are needed to kick Motha's ideas off. Hopefully, more support will go towards language maintenance in the future.