Not having really pondered over bilingual education before, I must admit I did not have a formed opinion concerning this issue. Of course, I was aware of the ‘phenomenon’ of bilingual children but I have never spent much time reflecting whether they should receive formal education in their mother tongue or whether they should learn in the language of their present surroundings. The decision is not an easy one to make, but I have set my mind against the usage of a mother tongue in formal education when that language is not the public language as well.
Although one may at first be enticed by compassion for little children from immigrant families – who are bewildered when confronted with a “stranger’s” language during their first months at school, while the “native” kids do not experience such confusion and feeling of “otherness” – one still comes to realize that in the long terms this makes the life of immigrant children easier. Children perceive the family language as private, intimate, special, as something that expresses their belonging to the family.
The other language, the language of the surroundings is the official, public language which they are expected to use if they wish to be understood by the surroundings. There is no doubt that children would feel more comfortable at school if they were thought in their mother tongue, but in this way they would only prolong their separateness from the people, the public of the country they live in.
Instead of undergoing assimilation they would become victims of public alienation. What is more, resisting this process of assimilation is not the right solution, because it strengthens their position as socially disadvantaged. Moreover, assimilation enables such children to achieve public identity, which is very important for their future social practice. After all, they are the citizens of a new country and should accept and respect the public language spoken in it.
To emphasize once more, children of immigrant parents belong now to a certain society different form the original society of their parents, and should be encouraged to become publicly confident, rather than hindered in preparing themselves for the duties they are to perform in the society. Once they acknowledge this, it will also be easier for them to enjoy social and political advantages, meaning the rights and benefits which certain benefits which certain social positions can offer. At least they will have the opportunity to strive to such positions.
The last thing I wish to mention is the matter which worries some supporters of bilingual education: they believe that children from immigrant homes should be reminded of cultural heritage and encouraged to preserve it. The truth is that such children are always aware of this heritage because it is a fundamental part of their identity, a part of their “self” and therefore cannot be forgotten or lost. Assimilation does not necessarily have to imply loss, especially when we approach it wisely and carefully.