The article, “Immigration and Language Diversity in the United States,” delineates how the history of linguistic diversity in the U.S. has ebbed and flowed throughout time. Long before English settlers arrived, there were many distinct languages spoken in Native American communities in North America. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there were an estimated 10 million people (approximately 10% of the population) who spoke a language other than English, which was influenced by immigration and slavery. With cultural assimilation and resistance to speaking any language other than English, the U.S. was virtually rendered monolingually English in the 1970s. Fast forward about 50 years, and the linguistic tides have turned again with a reported 60 million non-English speakers living and working in the U.S., of which 37 million are Spanish speakers. What does that mean for the education industry and championing equitable pathways to promote a linguistically diverse learning environment?
For a parent, student, or active community member, it can be challenging to know where to start in determining how to serve and make a meaningful difference due to the complexities of navigating the education system. Imagine trying to navigate this system when your native language is not English, and your previous knowledge about learning environments and educational systems may differ from the way children are educated in the U.S. This was the experience of Johanna López, the first Latina elected as a member of the Orange County Public School (OCPS) Board in Florida in 2018, and a recent guest on our podcast series, “Language is Your Superpower.”
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Johanna was a schoolteacher on the island, where she taught in Spanish. When she relocated to Orlando, Florida, her English proficiency was limited, but that did not dissuade her from going after her goal of getting back into the classroom. Her language acquisition journey has been a 20-year learning experience that has required her to also figure out how to navigate the U.S. educational system and how to advocate for equitable pathways for students that are learning English as a second language.
There are 3 ways you can become an education champion like School Board Member Johanna López:
1. Research the U.S. Department of Education website. Learn about the mission, goals, and objectives of the department as well as the structure, which includes School Boards, state contacts, and budgets as well as resources for parents, teachers, educators, and community members. Additionally, the website has language assistance in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, and Russian.
2. Advocate for education policy changes that support language diversity. In the 2019 report, “Making Languages Our Business” by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), they recommend that world languages be treated as a discipline much like others such as science, technology, math, etc.: “A command in multiple languages is a valuable asset for U.S. students and employees—not only in boosting their marketability in the workplace, but in helping them thrive in a global economy.” (p. 3) The research findings in the 2019 report indicate a “significant implication for education policy.” Therefore, U.S. policy makers should be encouraged to prioritize language education due to the growing demand and competitive advantage it provides.
3. Utilize Your Language Superpower. If you are proficient in one or more languages, consider being a liaison for your local School Board, public school, or other educational institution. As a bilingual or multilingual person, you can certify your language skills with ACTFL assessments through LTI. This will not only provide a boost to your credibility to serve as an intermediary, but it will also help you be viewed as a valuable resource to your community.
As the U.S. becomes more diverse, the need for linguistically diverse learning environments is critical in education for future generations. By doing some research, reaching out to local leaders, and actively serving your community, you can utilize your language superpower and become a champion for equitable education.
For more information on how you can become certified for your language proficiency, visit Language Testing International.
Tune in to the podcast with Johanna López here.