Opinion
English-Language Learners Letter to the Editor

Celebrate Bilingualism and Multicultural Identities at School

August 22, 2023 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Children tend to view their ambiguous identities and liminality as an obstacle to their success, rather than the key to it. I agree with local institutions and schools using biliteracy seals to incentivize students to maintain their native languages (“Biliteracy Seals Recognize Multilingualism, But Schools Can Do More,” June 30, 2023).

In my work with North Korean refugees and their children, I have found that the latter group, who are mostly born in hiding in China, naturally pick up Chinese during their time there. When these children escape China undetected and arrive in South Korea, they are faced with the daunting obstacle of assimilating to South Korean society. These children are uncomfortable with the fact that their first language is Chinese, their mother is North Korean, and their new life is in South Korea.

While younger students may struggle with their Korean skills or Chinese accent, older students have learned to see their bilingualism as an asset rather than a barrier, pursuing careers such as interpretation, international trade, and politics, where it gives them an advantage as a unique spokesperson of South Korea, North Korea, and China.

The EdWeek article highlights the tension between American multiculturalism and the pressure on immigrants and refugees to assimilate to a single way of life. It is essential that immigrant and refugee students are encouraged to maintain their first languages. Bilingualism should be celebrated and preserved, and a seal of biliteracy is a valuable first step in that direction.

Su Lee
English Teacher
Durihana International School
Seoul, South Korea

A version of this article appeared in the August 23, 2023 edition of Education Week as Celebrate Bilingualism and Multicultural Identities at School

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