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A night of Speaking in Tongues…how shall we speak the rest of the year?

Written By: daveski on October 11, 2009 3 Comments

Last night I had the privilege of joining Usree for a visit to a language-learning event and screening of Najib Joe Hakim’s film that chronicles the successes of children in bilingual programs in San Francisco schools, Speaking in Tongues.

Held at Beverly Cleary Hall across the street from the Unit 3 residence hall, and under Bianca’s masterful facilitation, the screening and discussion afterward formed a very cool forum for raising questions about the place that languages other than English have and should have in the lives of people growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, California and beyond.

Although we didn’t get there in time to see the whole film (and it would have been great to try language learning speed-dating style!), our brief time there raised several questions about the place of language in our lives and in our society. I thought I’d just write a few of them down here and see if anyone would like to add to them, or tell us more about where the discussion among Beverly Cleary Hall residents has come, and where it might be going.

  • What does learning or preserving a language that we or our families speak mean to us, and how can that be compared to the other priorities in our educations and lives?
  • What things in languages just can’t be translated? Are these some of the things that make languages worth learning?
  • Should we as a society promote bilingualism? Doesn’t that cost too much? And does promoting bilingualism threaten our ability as a society to all communicate with each other?

No doubt this list needs to be much longer. I’ll leave it here, though, and end by saying thank you again to everyone who I talked with last night–keep in touch! It was a lot of fun. And below I’ll leave a few links that might add to the discussion…

  • A YouTube video that narrates the history and impact of the 1974 Lau vs. Nichols Supreme Court decision that created legal precedent for bilingual education
  • An analysis of Proposition 227, voted into law in 1998 by the California public and outlawing bilingual education in public schools
  • U.S. English, a group advocating for English to be enacted as the official language of the U.S. (already well on its way–see H.R. 997, the so-called “English Language Unity Act of 2009” in Congress);
  • The Mass English Plus Coalition explaining the movement for language policies that promote multiple linguistic competences and combat discrimination enacted through language policies
  • The Institute for Language Education and Policy, an advocacy organization headed up by long-time bilingual education scholar James Crawford.
  • And, here at Berkeley, the info page for the Letters & Science minor in Applied Language Studies, where you can learn more about this and other ways language is implicated in who we are and what we do.

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3 Responses to “A night of Speaking in Tongues…how shall we speak the rest of the year?”

  1. Marcia Jarmel on: 29 October 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Just a quick correction. Najib Joe Hakim was the excellent still photographer for SPEAKING IN TONGUES, but the director/producers are Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider of PatchWorks Films. If you are interested to learn more, watch the trailer, join our Facebook page or newsletter list, or learn when the film will be broadcast on public television, check out the film’s website: http://www.speakingintonguesfilm.info.


  2. Marcia Jarmel on: 29 October 2009 at 11:17 pm

    PS I’d love to know who sponsored the event written about above.

  3. daveski on: 30 October 2009 at 8:18 am

    Thank you very much, Marcia, for the corrections. My apologies for the mistakes. I’ll see if I can help put you in touch…and in the meantime, I wonder, are there any follow-up or similar film projects underway in the Bay Area?

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