Bilingual Community Education and Multilingualism

This week we publish Bilingual Community Education and Multilingualism edited by Ofelia García, Zeena Zakharia and Bahar Otcu which offers new understandings about heritage language education in the multilingual city of New York. Here Ofelia García tells us about about the importance of community education projects. 

Multilingualism today is often framed through a lens of super-diversity. This is so especially in urban contexts, where many have documented the frequent and intense interaction of different ethnolinguistic groups. But little has been said about bilingualism as seen through the lens of the ethnolinguistic communities themselves.

This book takes up the lens of ethnolinguistic communities as they proudly educate their own children in their ways of speaking and being. These bilingual community education programs are unlike bilingual programs in US public schools, where speakers of languages other than English are often minoritized. In these programs, the children’s linguistic and cultural diversity are their most valuable assets. But these bilingual community education programs are also different from how others have characterized “heritage language” programs. In these bilingual community education programs diasporic ethnolinguistic communities ensure that their children use their ways of speaking and being within a US global context. Thus, their interest is not in their heritage, as the language and the culture was performed in the past, in another space, but as a dynamic bilingualism and biculturalism that is performed by American children.

Adopting the lens of the bilingual communities themselves means that it is not super-diversity that drives these efforts. Instead, language practices are locally-produced by the communities themselves, although shaped by the plural interactions that are redefining bilingual language practices.  The bilingual communities and the educators involved in these efforts do not support super-diversity. They see their languaging and identifying through a narrow lens, although they adjust that lens to converge with the language and cultural practices in the United States. Their translanguaging practices encompass both the bilingual discourse used in these educational spaces, as well as the pedagogies that are often observed. Rather than becoming obsfuscated by super-diversity, their translanguaging becomes sharper, more intense, as they redefine their languaging and subjectivities as that of bilingual Americans. It is this type of bilingual community education program, and not just celebrating super-diversity, that will ensure that bilingual communities are respected as assets, and that bilingual children will be valued for their bilingualism.

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