Who gets to be trilingual? The situation always seems to present itself as such: one parent speaks one minority language and the other parent another minority language and they live somewhere, where the majority language is spoken.
What about those parents who are monolingual? What about parents who are both what they call heritage speakers of a minority language, like myself? What about parents who would LOVE for their children to speak more than one language, but can’t afford to send them to private foreign language schools? This is one of the very reason why I don’t play an instrument, for example. My parents did not have the financial means to send me to lessons, let alone rent or buy and instrument. I got to dance ballet, but only because the classes were by donation.
I feel fortunate that we have the option to send our daughter to a foreign language school. As much as I advocate for multilingualism I also have to acknowledge that there are individuals for whom this is not an option.
The city I live in, Austin,Texas, has finally implemented dual language education in our public schools. A selected few schools were chosen, but hopefully others will follow. This kind of education, where bilingualism is the goal, has been one our local community has advocated for several years. I guess you can say the larger community is starting to find value in multilingualism or that all it can sometimes take is a savvy, younger, open-minded superintendent to catch on to the idea of bilingualism as a goal. So, again, I pose the question, what about those cities where dual language education is not an option in the public schools? It was only a few years ago where this was the case in my progressive, university-town of a city. The only schools that existed were fairly expensive private ones.
There’s more to considering how much it costs to become bilingual or trilingual. As I have been researching private day cares for our baby I have learned that private-language schools cost a little more than your regular private schools. In fact, these private language day care schools are in such demand that I find myself weighing the “costs”, and not just in monetary terms, but in other ways, such as teachers that seem more like “ninieras” than actual teachers. When thinking about how much it costs to becoming multilingual I am referring to multiple sentidos. There’s the extra financial burden and then there’s the fact that the foreign languages schools are limited in scope, therefore limited in how particular parents can be when thinking about other factors such as teaching philosophy, cleaningness, distance from home, or student to teacher ratios.
No matter where we stand in our plight for multilingual education one thing remains the same: the importance of continuing to advocate for dual language education so that everyone has the option and not have to weigh out the costs.
*Originally published on Feb. 10, 2011 on the Spanglish Baby website.