English-Only laws in AZ

Donald Z. Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Wed Sep 22 17:08:28 UTC 2004

This is a very interesting thread with some very important strands, if you will,
that it would help to sort out. Or at least I'm needing to do that and hope it
will be useful for me to share it.

1. Bilingualism is good for you. I'd tend to agree with what Mia said on this,
without denying Susan's reference to failed efforts to focus on such a message.
It seems to be a much surer long-term foundation (or part of it) for arguing
for bilingual education than otherwise clever arguments such as what Matthew
suggested (e.g., that English-only laws make Navajo a foreign language). Such
reasoning risks dividing support for indigenous languages in education from
support for immigrant languages (an unintended message). The basic cause of
bilingual education probably needs to be broader to succeed.

2. First-language education is a matter of quality education as well as a matter
of human (linguistic) rights. This would be the other part of the foundation
for the case for bilingual education.

3. What is really being argued against can therefore be recast as "monolingual
non-first-language education," which in the US puts children of non-English
speaking households at a disadvantage (per #2) and removes a potential
advantage (per #1). This not an arguement against English, of course, but

4. Monolongual paradigm. One of the challenges of pursuing this line of
reasoning (nos. 1-3) is that it runs up against what I think of as a paradigm
that considers more than one language to be a disadvantage to individuals and
societies, and that having more than one language means learning one or
both/all less well. This is not just a US phenomenon, but held in some other
countries, even multilingual ones (the notion of a single language for
nation-building came from Europe, for instance).

5. "English fever." Another seemingly distant but very real consideration is
that there seems to be an organic need in today's globalizing human society for
an international lingua franca. English for better or worse (let's not get into
that discussion now) is for the moment at least, spreading to fill that role.
It's easy for people looking at that to think that the best thing in the world
for their kids and the other kids in their society is to learn English really
well. This thought manifests itself in different forms as it passes through
geographic and political prisms (to stretch a metaphor), from "English only" in
some dominantly English first-language contries (notably the US), to parents in
countries where English is a language trying to speak English only and not
their first languages to their children in the hopes that that will benefit
them later on in life (some examples in urban Africa), to the increased
importance of teaching English to non-English speakers (examples worldwide,
including China, where there are a lot of English learning schools, programs,

6. Matthew's example of someone saying "We're not against preservation of Native
languages, but they have to be practical. They couldn't use them if they go to
Germany," is an example of nos. 4&5 above, and also probably an unstated
hierarchy of languages. The speaker would probably not say something similar to
Germans. this kind of thinking, which if you look at it is fundamentally a
monolingual paradigm.

7. Language rights and bilingual education are international issues too, like
English fever. IOW, I'd agree with what Susan wrote about endangered languages
but take it a step further. It may be that proponents of indigenous and
endangered languages are more conscious of the international dimensions than
others focusing on bilingual education in particular countries. In any event,
more could be done.

8. There is another hidden strand here and that is the less extreme position of
English-only (and similar propositions) that reduces first language (L1)
education to a stepping stone to fluency in a second/additional language (L2).
This of course is opposed to "additive bilingual" approaches that recognize the
intrinsic importance of L1.

Don Osborn

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