ELL: Wall Street Journal editorial

Keith Johnson kjohnson at LING.OHIO-STATE.EDU
Fri Mar 29 19:42:29 UTC 2002

Dear ELL,

To me the most important opinion expressed in the Wall Street Journal
editorial on language death is Miller's view that bilingualism is
"onerous at even the individual level".  He said:

	Linguists say that about half the world's population is
already able to speak at
	least two languages, and they insist that such bilingualism
is a key to preserving
	"diversity." Perhaps, but it sounds better in theory than it
works in practice.
	Simple verbal exchanges are one thing; communicating at high levesl of
	proficiency is another. If bilingual education in the U.S.
has revealed anything, it
	is that schools can teach a rudimentary knowledge of two
languages to students
	while leaving them fluent in neither.

One of my great regrets is that I was kept monolingual as a child,
and am now essentially monolingual despite some language education.
The "bilingual education in the US" mentioned by Miller has nothing
to do with normal bilingualism, yet his negative assessment of the
viability of bilingualism is widely assumed to be true.  Bilingual
education in this paragraph refers to school programs set up for
children of imigrants who are learning English for the first time
when they go to school at 6, 7, 8 years of age, and ESL programs for
adult imigrants.  Miller has no concept of bilingualism outside of
this context, save the language education that is sometimes given to
high-school and college students in the US (which definitely does not
result in mastery of a second language).

I think linguists need to work very hard to inject some reality about
the relative benefits of bilingualism into US (and other
English-speaking countries'?) discourse on language policy.

Keith Johnson

P.S. Regarding the importance of "communicating at high levels of
proficiency", my former students who are now in the business world
all complain about the same thing - "these people don't know how to
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