Teaching Foreign Languages: A Challenge to Ecuadorian Bilingual Intercultural Education

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Since the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights in 1996, there is a tendency not only to maintain linguistic and cultural diversity worldwide, but also to ease universal access to quality education which should comprise the learning of other languages and cultures and the generation of intercultural relations. In this sense, this article discusses the right that minoritized peoples in Ecuador have to learning other languages while reinforcing their own. After describing briefly the Ecuadorian main linguistic and educational policies in regards to the teaching of foreign languages, this article analyses the contrasting viewpoints of indigenous and non indigenous peoples towards the process of teaching-learning foreign languages. Finally, it offers some suggestions and general parameters related to foreign language teaching in the multilingual context of the study.

KEYWORDS: Ecuador, bilingual intercultural education, indigenous languages, Kichwa, Quichua, Quechua, foreign languages, language attitude, elite bilingualism, minoritized bilingualism, interculturality,

I. INTRODUCTION

Multilingualism is a resource to be cultivated, rather than a problem to be overcome.2

Based on the preceding staement, this article aims to bring to reflection the impact that the teaching of foreign languages (FL) has -or may have- in minoritized3 multilingual and multicultural environments which face the continuous imposition of hegemonic groups, their languages and cultures. After describing the context which surrounds the Ecuadorian society, as well as the official linguistic policy in regards to the teaching of FL in the country, I will analyze the attitudes and expectations Indians4 and Mestizos have in regards to the teaching-learning processes of FL. I shall proceed to present one of the experiences of the teaching of FL in the country, to then call upon reflection around the challenge involved in the search for educational plans and actions that prone to optimizing education, while at the same time reinforcing and maintaining local cultural and linguistic identities. Finally, and by way of a suggestion, I will transcribe some general ideas regarding methodological and content aspects, as well as teacher training for professionals teaching FL in minoritized contexts. Even though this paper is specially referred to the Ecuadorian reality, it is equally applicable to other countries in the Andean area, as well as to those characterized by multilingualism and multiculturalism.

II. THE ECUADORIAN CONTEXT

Ecuador is the smallest country in the Andes (272. 045 Km.2); it is located in northwestern South America (Map 1) and divided into four natural regions: the Amazonía, the Highlands (Sierra), the Coast, and the Galapagos Islands. Its population reaches approximately 13.000.000 people, divided into Indians, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Mestizos; a large group calls itself "white" while trying to deny its indigenous roots (Krainer 1999).

There is no agreement regarding the percentage of the indigenous population in Ecuador5; according to the ethnic census carried out in 1997 by the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE), between 20 to 25% of the total population in the country acknowledge themselves as being indigenous coming from different nationalities (Map 1), and around two million inhabitants from the Highlands were registered as Kichwa speakers. Although demographic and linguistic data is not precise, it is a fact the Ecuadorian population is heterogeneous and our peoples have lived a history of conflict, in which minoritized sectors (i.e., indigenous peoples) have learned how to survive dominant sectors.

Even though in the last few years several alternatives have been tried in the field of education, the non-indigenous population has been somewhat distant from such processes; therefore, it is understandable a marginal status has been assigned to all that is related to innovative proposals in the field of education, health, and the social agenda, as another way of ignoring cultures, their knowledge, their needs, the dynamics and values of groups that have historically lived in subordination. …