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Speaking in Tongues

Scholars Reimagine a Multilingual World

How to stop the spread of English and other "killer" languages? How to fight the perception of multilingualism as a drain on standardized test scores? And is language truly a human right?

Those questions were debated at "Imagining Multilingual Schools," a gathering at TC in late September of scholars, teachers and policy experts from 22 countries. The conference was convened to promote recognition and respect for traditional minority and indigenous languages.

"Multilingualism is a great asset to our society as well as an individual right within the context of schools and classrooms," said conference co-chair Ofelia Garcia, Professor of Bilingual Education in the Department of International and Transcultural Studies. "Moreover, it is becoming the norm internationally." Co-chair Maria Torres-Guzman, Associate Professor of Bilingual Education, added, "This conference and the research presented here are helping to change the way we view multilingualism, in the U.S. and all over the world."

In the U.S., bilingual and multilingual education have always shared a history with the larger struggle for civil rights. Yet the U.S. remains one of only two countries that is not a signatory to the U.N. Conference on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes language as a human right. And-many speakers argued-the nation's emphasis on standardized testing, as embodied in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, tends to translate into an insistence on teaching everyone English.

The challenge is to bridge the gap between policy and practice, and enact laws that truly help students develop literacy in their first language.

Published Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2005