I would like to write my first blog post in response to Rydenvald’s (2015) article: Elite bilingualism? Language Use Among Multilingual Teenagers of Swedish Background in European Schools and International Schools of Europe.
In regards to the concept of ‘elite bilingualism’, it is exactly that. These children, both in European and International schools, have the luxury of keeping their Swedish identity while living in foreign countries. They speak Swedish with their Swedish-speaking friends and relatives, have classes in Swedish, and up to 86% of the students in European schools spend three weeks or more in Sweden in the summer, thereby maintaining a connection with their home culture (Rydenvald, 2015). Because English—the language of global economic power—is a significant language of instruction, it also becomes a common language amongst the students of different backgrounds, along with other languages which aren’t specified. Most significantly to me is the fact that these students exhibit “marginal use of the local majority language” (Rydenvald, 2015, p. 225). They are more-or-less cut off from the community surrounding their school. Their status protects them from the challenges of being a true immigrant wherein the individual has no choice but to conform to the local culture in order to survive. They stay comfortably within the elite culture-bubble and prosperous futures are all but guaranteed for them.
In comparison to Quebec, where Bill 101 all but ensures that new immigrants’ children study in French, the situation is very different. These children don’t have classes in Urdu or Somali, and they are actively encouraged to take on French language and identity to the degradation of their home identities. (I will talk more about this in an upcoming presentation). Poorer immigrants also do not have the luxury of visiting home every summer in order to maintain their connection to a homeland that may be looked down upon by some in their new culture. Furthermore, as much as English as the international language of power and status may be problematic in its own right, by not having the option to study more than a minimum amount of English (an hour a week in elementary school, 150-200 min a week in high school), they are also potentially cut off from the opportunities provided to individuals with high English proficiency (Winer, 2007).
This is absolutely NOT to say that Quebec doesn’t have the right to protect French in the ways it sees fit (again, we will present more on this soon), but more to emphasize the fact that if an immigrant family happens to be of a high enough socioeconomic status, it’s possible for them to bypass all of the mechanisms of integration and inclusion within the local culture if that language/culture doesn’t happen to be desirable, while at the same time maintaining their home language and identities.
So many millions of other immigrants across the world don’t have that luxury.
Rydenvald, M. (2015). Elite bilingualism? Language use among multilingual teenagers of Swedish background in European schools and international schools in Europe. Journal of Research in International Education, 14(3), 213–227.
Winer, L. (2007). No ESL in English schools: Language policy in Quebec and implications for TESL teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 41(3), 489-508.