Traditional languages ​​in schools: A story of identification, belonging and loss

Decisions are usually made out of necessity. English is often seen as a requirement for successful assimilation in this country. But this does not come without a cost, and for many people who have not kept up with the language of their heritage, or who have not learned their family language in the first place, it can have a significant impact on identity. .

“Language shapes you. It shapes your thinking,” says Hung, referring to the way language shapes and shapes how we think. “So if language shapes our thinking and I can’t primarily think in my native language, what does that mean to me?” What makes a Cantonese person and less Chinese?”

Losing a traditional language can also affect how people learn because fluency in your first language greatly enhances your ability to learn a second language; Not having that first language as a solid foundation for learning all languages ​​can be a barrier to fluency.

Additionally, the language of one’s heritage is strongly connected to one’s sense of self, and can determine one’s path around the world and in the classroom.

When we are, we learn better

A A sense of belonging — being seen, valued and connected to school — can go a long way for students. This can be a profound motivation, and can influence educational success for students both within the classroom and in the wider community.

Part of fostering that sense of belonging depends on a school’s approach to language learning and its embrace of non-English speaking students, as well as diverse sets of cultural heritage and backgrounds.

“You’re not going to be able to center student voices and identities in your classroom if you don’t see those voices and those identities as valuable and important to you,” says David BowlesAuthor and professor at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, where he teaches the next generation of educators.


Bowles is dedicated to teaching her preservice teachers about the value of embracing students’ cultural identities and traditions, especially by embracing languages ​​outside of English in the classroom.

“I think schools should preserve heritage languages ​​and use students’ home languages ​​as the primary vehicle for literacy instruction in those early years,” Bowles said.

Although language immersion schools have gained popularity recently, it wasn’t always that way. In the 1980s and 1990s, California banned all bilingual education programs because they were considered a “threat to English” and adopted almost two decades to bring it back





However, establishing bilingual education programs often requires a great deal of work and determination by educators, advocates, and community members.

“I was told to stop thinking in Arabic in order to finish essays on time,” says Noor Bohassoun, youth coordinator at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), about her time at the US school, which supports the idea. For that to be successful, it must be in English.

“It is not just a language, it is my existence, my culture. It’s the language I grew up speaking,” he says in Arabic. “So that language is not legalized. And I felt like I wasn’t my full self, couldn’t be my full self in school or in the school system.”

Bouhassoun’s school experience helped inspire her to organize community and work with AROC to affect change, including bringing an Arabic language pathway program to San Francisco.

It’s important, he says, to “recover this sense of identity and sense of belonging and feel that I can be proud of who I am, my family history and my language.”

Language is essential to identity. It can determine the way people live in the world, and in turn, it shapes the world view.

As the student population in the United States becomes more diverse, so do calls for improved bilingual education—including recognition of the role of a traditional language in all educational processes. “Teachers need to know their students,” Bowles said.

Research will continue to show Maintaining traditional languages ​​has profound benefitsBut a big challenge is creating the bilingual learning environment necessary for students to really thrive, especially because students need a lot of one-on-one time with teachers and they’re in a system that’s already really taxing on teachers. .