This PBS “Language Wars” report paints a somewhat balanced picture of the debate on bilingual education in this country… and it drives me absolutely insane. I was planning on writing another ranty post about this, but I’ll spare everyone because what I want to say boils down to this: it makes me feel icky. I love grammar, and I think learning it provides us with a powerful tool for communication, but quashing a student’s native or heritage language seems wrong and reactionary.
Being bicultural is enough of a struggle without a school system telling you that speaking your language makes you stupider. Heritage languages can be hard to preserve because parents and children feel ashamed of the culture they are transmitting or learning… and anti-bilingualism reinforces that feeling of shame.
One of the toughest but most important tasks a language teacher has is to create a safe space. Language is experimental and intensely personal. A student may feel more at ease in a classroom of rules and diagrams, but that’s only because the rules become walls and the adherents have no incentive to explore.