Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Synopsis

This volume contributes to the debates about the social aspects of bilingualism, focusing on the various opportunities and challenges bilingualism presents to today's society. The contributions in this volume are of a prospective stance, delineating directions for future research on bilingualism and/or identifying important issues which have been under-researched or which are still of a controversial nature. All the contributions are from leading international scholars who have researched and published extensively in the field of bilingualism. To facilitate further discussions of the issues raised in the volume, there are study questions and suggested reading attached to each of the main chapters.

Excerpt

When one senior academic proposed to teach a course on bilingualism, the university authorities asked him "Why?". After having justified his reasons in detail, and in writing, the senior academic was told that he could only offer the course on the condition that he called it "Problems of Bilingualism". He was puzzled as to what the "problems" were, or for whom, but was not given any explanation by the university authorities. This event did not happen in a monolingual country, nor centuries ago. It happened in the late 1970s, in Brussels, the officially bilingual capital of both trilingual Belgium and the multilingual European Union.

Things have moved a long way in the last two decades as popular misconceptions about the problematic nature of bilingualism have gradually been given way to a growing recognition of the prevalence, normalcy and value of bi- and multi-lingualism, both for the individual and for the larger community. Although bilingualism is of all times, the need for compentency in more than one language has probably never been greater than at the turn of the third millenium. This is the result of a variety of factors, including, globalisation of business, commerce and entertainment, massive population shifts of people from different ethnolinguistic backgrounds, rapid urbanisation, and cheaper and faster means of international travel and communication. These factors, together with the spread of bilingual and second/foreign language education, have all helped, in some way, to increase the number of people who can speak more than just their mother tongue. Many of them are quite proud of the fact that they are bi- or multi-lingual. Their intelligence has apparently not been negatively affected, as was previously assumed, and more importantly perhaps, their professional, social and economic status is often enhanced by their bi- or multilinguality. Even the university authorities, especially those in English-dominant countries, having realised at last that overseas students are a huge financial asset, publicly acknowledge the significance of having more people in their establishments who may be speaking a "foreign tongue".

In the meantime, the political climate has changed too. There is an increased awareness of the language rights by/of both indigenous and immigrant communities in developed countries. And multilingualism and multicultural-

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