- Posted July 4, 2014 by
Is bilingualism dangerous for our society?
Some people -- mainly ultra-conservative politicians -- say that the social phenomenon that is bilingualism is a danger for a nation’s unity and claim it creates communitarianism, and by doing so endangers the stability of a country. To them, there is and can only be one official language that all citizens should speak. They despise bilingualism so much that, when they argue against it, it sometimes ends up sounding as if they are talking about an extremely contagious disease that needs eradicating or some sort of secret society that needs fighting against.
Bilingualism: Factor of instability or scapegoat of ignorance?
People who think bilingualism -- and multilingualism, in general -- is dangerous for our society are completely wrong. What they point at with vehemence has nothing to do with the type of communitarianism they fear so much -- i.e. in the whatever extremist and recluse sense it can sometimes be portrayed by the media. No, if communities of bilingual speakers do exist, it is mainly to help families and expatriates from the same geographical location to share their love for their language, culture, ideas and interests. They are naturally led by the needs of globalisation and cultural openness, not social alienation.
Bilingual speakers want their little ones to inherit this knowledge and remember their parents or grandparents’ origins. Fair enough. In the fast world in which we live in, which many – the very same conservative type of people! – describe as lost and without taught principles and values, who would blame bilingual speakers for passing on to their children their family and cultural values?
Language is not a barrier to citizenship.
It indeed contributes to the sense of belonging to a community, but it certainly does not mean they don’t belong to the same nation as their non-speaker friends. When someone is a member of a local sport club and support their team against clubs from other cities, it does not make them worse citizens than others simply because they are member of that particular club. They still belong to the same nation and eventually support the same national team!
Really. There is nothing to fear from bilingualism, quite contrary. More and more scientific studies have indeed concluded in recent years that bilingual children get additional opportunities and definitely benefit more than their monolingual friends later on in life thanks to the added value that is speaking another language. Bilingual education is something that should be embraced, as it is already in the United States where states such as California, New Mexico, Washington, Illinois and Louisiana now recognise and even reward it with diplomas.
Bilingual speakers are everywhere.
Some famous people are also bilingual speakers and proud of their origins, from the current French PM Manuel Valls (born in Spain and a Spanish speaker), to American actresses Sandra Bullock (a German speaker) and Mila Kunis (born in Ukraine and a Russian speaker), South African actress Charlize Theron (an English and Afrikaans speaker), Brazilian top model Gisele Bündchen (a Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian and German speaker), or American Theoretical physicist and Genius Albert Einstein (who was born in Germany and spoke German, Italian and English). Does it, in any way, make them worth less or worse citizens, at all? No!
We are always afraid of what we don’t know. It is quite natural. However, if we try to understand what bilingualism really is all about, we will make a big step towards accepting each other more, and so, make the world a rather better place.
(Photographs: Bilingualism: Dangerous for our society? - Dreamstime / Mtsue, Myth: Bilingualism, a secret society! - Dreamstime / Oleksiy Tsuper, Brazilian top model Gisele Bündchen - Dreamstime / Carrienelson1)