After the Basque class this summer, I had an opportunity to speak with the teacher, Txili Lauzirika. He is a native speaker of Euskara (Basque), with a passion for the language. A teacher and poet by profession, and a sociologist by training, he offered me important insights into the survival of Euskara up to the present, as well as its continued existence into the future.
Because his training was in sociology and not history, he presented me some counter-narratives to the ones we normally hear about Euskara. They offer hope to the future existence of this minority language if we follow some of the basic principles that he noticed. Survival of Euskara
Following up on last week, I don’t think we should focus on teaching or learning “world” or “foreign” languages. From an ecolinguistic point of view, we observe Spanish spoken all over the place. Let’s focus on how you would teach languages as if they were “local” and not “foreign,” that is, if kids in our school, people at the mall, were speaking those languages.
The example of Spanish works best. In the US Spanish is, in fact, not a foreign language. Since the US became the second-largestSpanish-speaking country in the world, we should no longer teach Spanish as a language spoken “over there.”
Yes, people speak the language in lots of other countries, but that doesn’t make it a “foreign” language. If you lived in Panama would Spanish be a “foreign” language? Of course not. If you lived in Bilbao, would Basque be a “foreign” language? It would be a “local” language.
By raising the prestige of the languages spoken in our schools, we augment the ability of all of our students to learn languages. Children figure out how to do what interests them, and when language is a part of that, they will learn the language.
I was recently listening to an episode of the “I will Teach you a Language” Podcast, entitled, “How can we change language education in schools?,” in which the host, Olly Richards, interviews Lindsay Dow of Lindsay Does Languages. They talk at length about what motivates school kids to learn languages. Good teachers understand these motivations, and, in the ideal school, would help kids discover and plug into the areas they find cool to encourage their language-study.
While the discussion brought in many topics and hobbies to offer kids, they missed an obvious area where they could plug into with their language:
Loving language can save your life. Some talk about languages helping you get a better paycheck or offering cognitive benefits. If you aim to make yourself richer or smarter, learning a language gives you marginal benefits. They will not save your life, though.
Or will they…?
Our society in the US—and more and more in the first world—is developing a serious, deadly condition, that is, loneliness. Note, though, that this is a problem of the first world. It does not afflict those of the third world nearly as much.
By learning a language, especially one of the immigrant groups living near you, you may have a chance of dodging the deadly bullet of isolation that is literally killing people in our society. Our neighbors have the answer
I’ve recently been attacked as a “cuck” for being a “pro-diversity pro-immigration liberal.” Another person, described as a “liberal and a first amendment fan,” respectfully disagreed with me. (I appreciated the latter much more than the former, I have to say.)
What was the position that got me stuck between two sides? I believe that dialogue between opposing sides has to take place as a prerequisite for the two sides to come to an agreement. The winner can’t be chosen ahead of time according to ideological criteria. We can’t decide ahead of time that the immigrant is right, or the person of color is right, that the anti-immigrant or racist is right. They have to sit and work it out.
Tyranny of the majority is just as bad as tyranny of the minority or even of the one. The majority, even the “just,” may be on the side of one or the other, but it doesn’t matter when the two are at the table together. Might does not make right.
Two come to the table to work out their dispute on equal terms. This assumes that neither sees himself as greater than the other, but each seeks to submit to the other. This is the ideal that I aim at, one where each seeks to become wise by loving the other in humble service.
Language helps us achieve the goal of resolving disputes. The people at the table cannot come to an agreement without a common language.
As for me, I want to love others in wisdom. I submit to the other in order to love him, even my right to speak my own language. I serve the one I’m discussing with by conceding my language. Language and loving
Spanish makes an appearance in the US presidential campaign. I first became aware of it when I saw the famous George Takei speak it in a plea that immigrants not vote for Trump.
In the ad, he addresses Spanish-speaking Americans, comparing verbal attacks by Trump against Latino immigrants to the US government’s forcing Japanese-Americans—like Mr. Takei himself—into internment camps during World War Two.
I was fascinated to see how he used Spanish as a way to connect with immigrants. He understood that using a language besides English would connect immediately with and show solidarity with immigrants. Moreover, he expressed how he learned Spanish: by living alongside Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles growing up.
Politicos take Spanish seriously. As a result, Spanish-speakers possess power. Spanish may have a future in the US, in spite of the normal forces that eliminate languages other than English from our country.
As I looked further, I found that Spanish political ads are common this season, and they have a history in our country. Other Spanish ads
Ms. Boland suffered at studying this language unsuccessfully at school. She writes, “The disgrace, as I see it, is being forced by the State to study a compulsory language for which I had no aptitude, absolutely no interest in, and no choice about throughout my entire school career. Where is the pedagogic sense in that?” To be honest, this sounds like my 14-year old’s laments about learning to divide polynomials: “How am I ever going to use that?”
I agree with my 14-year old, so I can’t dismiss Ms. Boland’s complaints out of hand.
But the author’s complain goes deeper. Not only did she fail to learn this compulsory subject, her country’s Constitution ties her Irish identity to it. She further argues, “It is written into our Constitution that Irish is our national language and the first official language. English is recognised as a second official language. That does not make sense.” She resents that her Constitution would define her by the subject that she hated and failed in school.
While she is right that Irish cannot be spoken outside of Ireland, does that make it less “useful”? Is this the only standard of “usefulness”? What’s useful?
Bringing languages into my community takes more work than it does at the Wellstone International High School that I spoke of in an earlier post. Fortunately, the ELL (English Language Learners) coordinator organized last week an event, “Many Languages, One District,” for a local school district. I loved attending and talking with so many different people in and about multiple languages. Read more about this great event
Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Wellstone International High School, the coolest, most exciting high school I’ve ever seen, of whose students I will remain eternally jealous. I heard multiple languages as I was shown the school, and had the chance to speak Somali, Spanish, and Arabic—but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to speak French with the Haitian student.
As I was leaving, a retired teacher said to me, “I envy you.” I replied to him, “You envy me?! You got to come here for work! This is the best place to work I’ve ever seen!” The school sets the standard for what global education can and should be. The best global education