Are we shifting towards monolingualism?
The next edition of Beyond English Fluency is here.
If you are new, Beyond English Fluency dives into topics and shares strategies around communication that go beyond language.
Every other Wednesday (twice per month), I share a theme related to communication that goes in depth about one theme, strategy or idea. Whether you are a non-native English speaking professional or consider yourself a native looking to excel in your communication- you’ll find a strategy that you can apply to your own situation.
Today we are looking at how language and identity are intertwined and how identity matters for success and what that means in our lives.
What is identity?
We are navigating our identities of who we are, all the time.
Identity is dynamic, constantly changing across time and place.
An identity can be redefined and can change in different situations based on how a person positions themselves and how they are positioned by others.
As children we begin to construct our identities through the school community. As adults we continue to construct our identities through interaction with significant others and their contexts.
A person may hold multiple identities which can change over a lifetime and be constructed through different social situations, relationships, and memberships of groups.
Language and Identity
Our native languages are a significant aspect of our identities.
The language someone speaks is instrumental in forming their identity.
The importance of identity has been emphasised because it is an aspect of how individuals make sense of the world and their experiences in it.
There is a misconception that as bilinguals or a multilingual, you can do everything the same in the two (or more) languages.
But the reality is that we might live part of our lives in one language (school and learning), another part in another language (work) and other elements in the different language (home and community).
Growing up as a bilingual or in an environment where your home language isn’t dominant, children negotiate their social and cultural identity daily. A bilingual’s experience growing up differs from a monolingual as they face different sociolinguistic experiences.
One could argue that as adults we do, too.
My own academic research has been into bilingualism and multilingual identity and what that means experiencing, growing up or living in an English speaking environment.
In 2018-2019, as partial fulfilment of the requirements for my Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition, Department of Education, University of Oxford; I carried out a systematic review, titled ‘A Systematic Review of Bilingual Spanish-English Language Learner’s Identity in the Transitional Classroom: Equating Success with English’.
My aim was to seek to understand how bilingual Spanish and English identity is negotiated for Latinx/Latine students enrolled in a transitional bilingual classroom in the United States and what impact that has for those who transition from Spanish to English on a heritage language learner’s identity.
The findings revealed that Latine students’ educational opportunities are being limited through the emphasis placed on English. It was found that it is widely agreed that educational success is more likely when these aspects of their identity are incorporated into the classroom interaction.
Latinx is used to describe a person of Latin American origin or descent; as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina
At the time, the term Latinx was more widely used but as Catarina Rivera, MSEd, MPH, CPACC pointed out in her post today, ‘…it has been criticized as not originating from our community and not being easily pronounceable in Spanish.’
I love how Catarina shared her own perspective and a great take-away from her post is that ‘If you’re not sure what terms to use when referring to a person, I encourage you to ask how someone self-identifies and find out what terms resonate for them.’
In my own academic research I found that, like other minority groups, Spanish heritage language children growing up in the U.S have been found to shift towards English monolingualism once they start formal education.
But what does this mean as adults or for adults who are shifting to working in English?
I am yet to investigate this and I am by no means an expert in Latinidad or can know the true impact it has on children and adults who transition and shift language.
What I do know is that language is deeply connected to questions of identity and relations of power.
The findings from my own in-depth analysis revealed that Latinx students’ educational opportunities are being limited through the emphasis placed on English.
Byeong-keun You examined how children negotiated their Korean-American ethnic identity through the heritage language and argued that their research shows maintaining a heritage language is essential in helping children have a positive racial identity.
The process of becoming bilingual has direct implications for the attitudes towards their language and the process of learning the dominant language.
I haven’t shared this story before and it might even sound quite contradictory.
As I shared with Rosie Yeung on my most recent episode the Design of Communication podcast – my heart feels like it is constantly pulled.
I help Design and Tech Professionals (typically non-native English speakers) with their communication confidence and speaking fluency. I am dedicated to helping global professionals reach incredible opportunities by sharing with them the tools and helping them build confidence to excel in English as well as their careers.
It is my goal to support professionals achieve confidence and to be at a state where they can use English with ease in their work and daily life – which is a huge reason why I started The Fluent Club.
But on the other hand, I am a huge advocate for languages and especially indigenous languages. The impact of shifting to English and monolingualism is something that I think about every day.
I definitely don’t have the answers but I have felt for a long time that this is a conversation that I have wanted to have and I am grateful that I am able to share this with so many of you.
No matter what language you speak or your background, we all have so much potential to excel.
I wanted to leave you with this:
“My identity is not my obstacle; my identity is my superpower.” America Ferrera, 2019
What are your thoughts on this? Please share your experience below.
If you would like to build your communication confidence and foundations in English but are not really sure how or where to start then check out my free guide to build your confidence today.
You can listen to this week’s interview here: Embracing your identity, culture, language and authenticity with Rosie Yeung
Do you have any additional questions? Feel free to reach out and send me a message. I’m happy to help.