Luxury Bilingualism

Dean Garlick

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.

References

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.

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3 thoughts on “Luxury Bilingualism”

  1. Hi Dean,
    When I was reading your post, I was just amazed by how truly the author of the article described the ‘elite bilingualism’ and you mentioned it together with some other accurate information regarding immigrants and their children living in Quebec. I absolutely agree with you about the following:”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.” That’s what I have personally noticed and experienced living in Quebec, Canada.

    Moreover, as a first generation immigrant, I would say more: I’ve been losing my L1 because I don’t have time and opportunity to practice it or to socialize with people speaking the same language, due to the constant pressure of the Quebec government to improve my French and be able to fit into the French dominant community inhabiting Quebec; but English, like you indicated in your post:”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”is my inspiration and emotional support which I was lucky to acquire in my native country and pursue studying and using in Quebec.

    When the government dictates you what language you have to speak as well as your offsprings, then the only solution to better integrate into the society, as a newcomer, would be to dive freely into the French second language acquisition process, and at the same time, to keep learning English when you have some time to breathe. Because I don’t belong to the upper economic class, I don’t have that luxury to travel and sharpen my L1 skills, but maybe, my children will have that golden opportunity someday, if I work really hard.

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  2. Hello Dean,
    I agree with you that socioeconomic status could determine language acquisition to some extend. This also happens in our foreign language acquisition. If people happen to have the chance to go to a foreign country to learn a target-language by immersion learning, it is more possible that they can master the language better and faster. However, this chance is usually based on the economic condition of a family. People from lower class may seldom have this chance.
    This can be related to the access of educational resources. Inequality in educational opportunities and resources still commonly exist in educational field.

    -Kunyao.

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  3. Monica:

    Hello Dean, I agree with you in terms of “bilingualism being a luxury”. As a Chinese teacher here in Montreal, I have heard numerous Chinese parents complaining to me about their children’s language loss. Lots of second generation Chinese kids fail to recognize the Chinese characters in that they have no language environment. What their parents can afford is to have a weekly Chinese class, in which the kids are reluctant to learn the words. They are not able to understand why they have to spend two hours learning a language that would not appear in their daily lives. Unlike the students in Sweden in Rydenvald ‘s study (2015), fifty-two percent of the students identify Swedish as their language. Many Chinese immigrants’ kids do not recognize Chinese as their language. This situation also happens in Arabic immigrants, in which their kids do not speak Arabic. However, if we draw a comparative analysis between the bilingualism in Sweden and Montreal. We could find the impossible reasons for language loss.

    1. While Swedish is either taught as a subject or used as a language of instruction (Rydenvald, 2015), Chinese and Arabic remain on a marginal position of the language mainstream. While French is being dominant; English as a subordinate, we hardly ever seen any other languages appear on public media. Immigrants fail to find a sense of belonging if we force them to study other languages.
    2. Immigrants in Montreal are losing their L1 partly because they don’t have time and opportunity to socialize with people of the same language.

    We need further studies in this perspective, and get implications from it. Moreover, I think that government and mass media should also shoulder the responsibility as well. The future of minority languages such as Chinese and Arabic depend on not only raising competence in the language among second language learners, but also on maintaining and promoting its use by Chinese and Arabic home language speakers and between first and second language children. If I were a mom, I think I would prefer to read bedtime stories in Chinese for my kids, rather than French or English.
    Here I recommend an article about bilingual education in Wales. I think the bilingualism is Europe is worthwhile for us to explore.

    Lewis, W. G. (2008). Current challenges in bilingual education in Wales. AILA Review, 21, 69- 86.

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