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A threatening bilingualism ... ...

Paesaggio, acrilico, 5 anni

Comparing USA and Luxembourg

Oh yes, there are people who see bilingualism as a threat to their identity. Obviously, every situation is different: in the U.S., for instance, the constant and massive immigration brings into the country adults of different nationalities who, according to numerous studies, will only partially be able to learn English. Their children, however, growing up in the United States, learn the language since their early age and can reach a very high degree of linguistic integration.

 

This is what we read about in an article published by the Linguistic Society of America (http://www.lsadc.org/info/ling-faqs-biling.cfm) wondering uneasily whether so many languages, and particularly the cases of bilingualism generally English-Spanish, the latter language being ever more present in the States, do not pose a threat to English. Fortunately not, concludes the author of the article, English is still very strong in the United States and around the world and if we find in America older generations of immigrants who speak little English, their children will master it as a native language.

Here I would like to open a parenthesis on the older generation of immigrants. Once in the host country, in many cases, as adults, they first made an effort to integrate and learn the language. To my surprise, I came to know of cases where, although the immigrants had reached an acceptable level of proficiency in adulthood, growing older they have gradually lost their motivation and, laying back, they also have gradually lost the ability to speak in the acquired language, increasingly taking refuge within their inner circle of knowledge in the community of origin, thus forgetting the language. This is a risk that I had personally never thought about before, but obviously it exists and it invites us all to remain vigilant and not lose touch with the reality of the country in which we live, and especially not to widen the cultural gap between us and our children.

But let us now turn our eyes to the situation in Luxembourg. According to recent statistics, more than a quarter of children of 4/5 years attending public schools are bilingual, but a third of them does not speak any of the three official languages of the country! (See The Essential, March 4, 2011) The massive immigration coming from Portugal, in most of these cases the family does not speak Luxembourgish (neither French nor, even less, German), hence the difficulty for children to learn other languages, especially Germanic languages.

Things get more complicated when the ones moving to Luxembourg are teenagers, which are about 500 each year and, generally, do not speak any of the languages of the country. They are welcome in so called "reception classes" where they get in contact with other foreigners, and in the case of the many Lusitanophonist is even more difficult not to speak Portuguese to each other; a part from that,  they all have anyway only 3 hours per week of Luxembourgish.

It is not my intention to give an evaluation of the local school system and enter into the debate of whether or not to learn Luxembourgish. I can only say that the variety of the society living in Luxembourg is also its strengh. However, I understand the concern of the threat posed by foreign languages and cultures in Luxembourg. Bilingualism, in conclusion, can certainly be an element of disturbance to the quietness of an established and static cultural identity, nevertheless it is moreover the bearer of values and cultures that can enrich everyone. I all depends which viewpoint you look from... ..

 

 

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