Multiple Languages in Education

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The use of multiple languages in educa- tion may be attributed to, or be a reflection of, numerous factors such as the lin- guistic heterogeneity of a country or region (e.g., Luxembourg or Singapore); specific social or religious attitudes (e.g., the addition of Sanskrit to mark Hin- duism or Pali to mark Buddhism); or the desire to promote national identity (e.g., in India, Nigeria, the Philippines). In addition, innovative language education programs are often implemented to promote proficiency in international lan- guage(s) of wider communication, together with proficiency in national and re- gional languages. The composite portrait of language education policies and prac- tices throughout the world is exceedingly complex—and simultaneously fascinat- ing. In Eritrea, for instance, an educated person will likely have attended some portion of schooling taught via Tigrigna and Arabic and English—and developed proficiency in reading these languages, which are written using three different scripts (Geez, Arabic, and Roman)! In Oceania, to take a different example, lin- guists estimate that a mere 4% of the world’s population speaks approximately 20% of the world’s 6,000 languages. In Papua New Guinea, a country that has a population of approximately 3,000,000, linguists have described more than 870 languages (Summer Institute of Linguistics 1995). There, it is common for a child to grow up speaking one local indigenous language at home, another in the mar- ket place, adding Tok Pisin to her repertoire as a lingua franca, and English if she continues her schooling. Analogous situations recur in many parts of the world such as India, which has declared 15 of its approximately 1,650 indigenous lan- guages to be “official”; or Guatemala, or Nigeria, or South Africa—to name but a few countries in which multilingualism predominates, and in which children are frequently exposed to numerous languages as they move from their homes into their communities and eventually...
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