Let’s De-Gentrify Language Acquisition: 3 Steps to Highlight Why Preserving Each Student’s Home Language Is Paramount for Language Minority Students’ Identities

For our Language Minority Students, Relationships with Grandparents Are Dependent on Knowing the Home Language Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Benefits of Dual Language Education for Speakers of Languages Other Than English

Two-Way Dual Language Education programming is a really cool opportunity for monolingual, English speaking families.  Being bilingual opens up economic opportunities.  It looks good on college applications.  And it helps develop the brain in a way that delays the symptoms of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  However, for students who identify the Language Other Than English (LOTE) as a home language, Dual Language Education is much more than these typical bilingual benefits.  It’s about preserving students’ identities.

For students who identify a LOTE as a home language, knowing and building their home languages is not just about fancy college applications.  It’s not just about economic opportunities or cognitive benefits.  It’s not even just about closing the academic, opportunity gap for our emergent bilinguals. Learning the home language is about far more than that.  It’s about honoring each student’s birthright to their families, their cultures, and their identities.  It’s about being able to keep strong ties with grandparents, uncles, and aunts who may not speak English well if at all.  Because culture is transmitted through language, knowing one’s home language is about staying connected to one’s culture and to one’s country of heritage.  It’s about being able to fit into one’s own ethnic community without being an outsider due to language and cultural barriers. And with culture, heritage, and community comes identity, so knowing one’s language is about preserving one’s identity, in other words preserving the fundamental of who our students are.

Sacredness of Language

The Diné people, as the Navajos are properly called, traditionally believed that one’s language is sacred because it comes from within one’s being and then mixes with the very air one breathes.  They so value(d) their language, they even have/had a deity, the Talking God, who was responsible for bringing forth the Diné language (Museum of Indian Culture and Arts, 2021).  As educators, it is important to value what is sacred in students.  It is important to have conversations with families and with students about the fact that students’ home languages are their birthright… their patrimonio… their rightful inheritance that none of us have the right to take away from them.  Instead, we have the responsibility to ensure that they receive their rightful inheritance.  

Furthermore, we need to ensure that our community understands that students’ home languages are their birthrights and that we, as a school system, have the responsibility to ensure that students have access to programs that develop their home language and therefore, their identities.  Otherwise, we run the risk of losing the focus of our programs… the focus being, our emergent bilingual students.  Here are a three ways to ensure that all of our stakeholders understand this information:

  1. Highlight the benefits of maintaining culture, heritage, community, and identity on our website and social media sites.  
  2. At meetings about Dual Language Education at our schools and districts, speak to all stakeholders, including our monolingual, English speaking parents, about the true value of Dual Language programming for our emergent bilinguals.  
  3. Take special care, using hard data, that we are growing our emergent bilingual students’ language abilities in the LOTE.  If we are not seeing growth, we need to go back to the nonnegotiables of Dual Language to ensure fidelity to the model. 

Low Incidence Languages

Also, remember our speakers of low incidence languages.  While a Dual Language Program may not be feasible for a low incidence language if there are only 2 or 3 students who speak that particular language, these students’ rights have not changed just because they are minorities amongst minoritized groups, nor has our responsibility towards them changed. We, as educators, need to find ways in addition to Dual Language to support all families who speak Languages Other Than English in preserving their home languages.  We owe that to our students.

Keep an eye out for a future post about supporting our students who speak low incidence languages.  And don’t forget to share what your school/district is doing to protect our students’ birthright to their language in the comments section below.

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