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Ethan

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Does the future of education lie in bilingualism? Is it even possible?

Hi everyone, I have been pondering for some time as to the role of language in cross-cultural interactions. As a bilingual, I have had the privilege of conversing across cultures to try and understand people from different perspectives. To me, language isn't just a medium of communication; it is a passport that grants people access to cultural knowledge.

I am also keenly aware, however, that imposing mandatory learning of a secondary language on the masses will provoke resistance and discomfort. More importantly, it seems to me that most people speak and think in a master language; that is, the language that they use in daily conversations, and the medium from which they interpret the sciences and the humanities. In that sense, few people can claim to be equally fluent in 2 or more languages.

So it is both uncomfortable and difficult to introduce bilingualism/multilingualism en masse, which leads me to some huge dilemmas:

Should we teach all children 2 languages?

Do you think it would eventually result in some form of cultural erosion as one's original master language is less spoken?

Would we end up in some sort of grey area whereby many children who cannot cope with bilingualism retains no master language at all?

And finally, would a bilingual world be a better place? (Forget world peace, what about cultural diversity??)

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    Dec 3 2011: True bilingualism is very difficult. I, like many of my former classmates, have had an entirely bilingual education. But, the issue is that of the "master language" people keep talking about. Few and by that I mean one person in 23 in my class, I would judge to be truly bilingual. This person had two mother tongues, so to speak, parents being one french-speaking and the other english-speaking. She took classes in english and french at the highest level in high school and is now pursuing legal studies in both english at french. Yes, she's truly bilingual, but she's the only one. All my other classmates including myself, although fluent in more than language, eventually 'chose' one dominant language. I put chose in quotation, because the choice is more of an indirect one. It depends on what language you choose to explore art, what language you use to communicate, what language you use to satisfy your curiousity, what language you can express yourself more easily in..etc.

    Now I don't mean to undermine bilingualism in any shape or form. I just wanted to make it clear that even if you teach two languages from kindergarten it doesn't mean the kid will become truly bilingual. What is more important though is that the kid will adopt a more international view of himself and the world around him.

    Look at it this way. Language is part of an individual's national identitiy. This identity is based on a collective set of values, experiences and behaviours termed culture that use language as a vehicle for sharing. Bilingualism can help break this construct of national identity and build one of international identity. When you start having more than one national identity, you realise the dilemma. One may be incompatible with the other. The construct collapses and one is forced to look beyond nationality.

    What if bilingualism stopped people thinking in terms of 'Us' and 'them' and instead encouraged thinking in terms of 'We'...?

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