Creative Writing Assignment

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After reading, “Aria: A memoir of a bilingual childhood” by Richard Rodriguez, and “Mother tongue” by Amy Tan, think about what it is like to live within two or more cultures. Describe how growing up in one culture and then encountering and adapting to another culture in school and in the world of work affected above authors. Then critically evaluate what you see as the advantages and disadvantages of being bicultural and/or bilingual. You may also use your own experiences and knowledge as examples. Please write 5 pages and include a page with all your references in MLA. Also please cite your sources by author and page number within your essay.

Please include the work cited at the final of the essay! Thank you!

Answer

Title: Advantages and Disadvantages of Being Bicultural and/or Bilingual

Introduction

In America, bilingual schooling was introduced during the 1960s. It became popular during the 1970s and has continued to be a prominent feature of the American education system. In many cases, children grow up in one culture only to be compelled by circumstances to encounter and adapt to another culture in a school setting or in the workplace. According to Rodriguez, children who are introduced to bilingual education end up being affected profoundly by this new phenomenon especially in regards to a change in individuality (518). For such children, mother tongue serves the role of a private language while the language being used in school takes the position of a public language. Any efforts to introduce the language of the school at home amount to a violation of the children’s privacy and can therefore affect their individuality.

Tan concurs with Rodriguez in the view that some language varieties are learnt and used only in school contexts and therefore are never used in family settings (431). In fact, Tan says that during a talk about her life and career, everything sounded right in English until she realized that he mother was in the room (431). She realized that she was speaking in a language that she had never used with her mother. Tan’s experience demonstrates that a bold line tends to divide the private language of one’s culture and the public language of education. It also reflects the need to reflect the advantages and disadvantages of being bilingual. The aim of this paper is to describe what it is like to live in two different cultures. To provide the ideal perspective for this discussion, this paper look at two texts: Richard Rodriguez’s “Aria: A memoir of a bilingual childhood” and Amy Tan’s “Mother tongue”. Based on these texts as well as my own knowledge and experiences, the advantages and disadvantages of being bicultural and bilingual are evaluated.

Understanding what it Means to Live in Two or More Cultures

The most dominant experience of living in a bicultural context is that of the dichotomy of public and private life. At home, a child is able to talk freely and intimately in mother tongue. In school, intimacy in communication is not guaranteed because of lack of proficiency in the language being used as the medium of instruction. Moreover, children who belong to a minority cultural group tend to be the most disadvantaged in public life because they are unable to comprehend what everyone else is saying. Therefore, they long to return home to the comfort of their first language environment. In this environment, they are able to understand every sound, word, and meaning being conveyed by family members and relatives.

In his memoir on childhood experiences in a bicultural American society, Rodriguez provides a detailed analysis of bilingual education. According to Rodriguez, bilingual education enables an individual to obtain a sense of public individuality (518). These views are important because they stand in sharp contrast to those of opponents of the “bilingual education project”, who claim that it erases one’s private individuality. During his first days in school, Rodriguez could not talk in English for two reasons. Firstly, he did not know the language; he only knew Spanish, the private language of familial contexts. Secondly, he lost confidence because he was overwhelmed by a multitude of los gringos  (Native American English speakers), whom he associated with public life. Fear reigned supreme to the extent that even Rodriguez’s parents were not confident enough to converse in English.

During my early years in school, I encountered a problem similar to Rodriguez’s. Although I went to a school where all students spoke the same mother tongue, I had a serious problem with English, which was being used as the medium of instruction. I had come to know my mother tongue as the private language that enabled me to interact with everyone around me, both at school at home. However, teachers punished us (school children) severely for speaking in our mother tongue at school. Yet we were not confident enough to make any meaningful sentences in English for purposes of real-life conversation. Whatever little English we knew only made sense to us for purposes of answering questions during lessons. To solve this problem, I would remain tightlipped throughout the day, waiting to get out of the school compound in the evening. On my way home, I would take delight in my newfound freedom to speak in my mother tongue. For me, mother tongue became the language of not just privacy but also freedom.

For Rodriguez, life changed remarkably when his teachers visited his home and advised his parents to start speaking in English (515). Since no one at home knew enough English words to converse freely, silence set in. For Rodriguez, this was a painful but essential lesson on the need to gain more awareness of his public individuality. From my own experience, I also encountered a similar situation, whereby I was hesitant to speak in mother tongue at home for fear of punishment. Evidently, the switch from school setting to home setting was not as seamless as I would have expected. At the dinner table in the evening, I would often look around to make sure that my teacher was not around before speaking in mother tongue for fear of severe punishment. With a big sigh of relief, I would suddenly realize that I was in the middle of a family dinner session at home and not in an English session at school.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Living in a Bicultural and Bilingual Environment

Being bicultural or bilingual comes with several advantages as well as disadvantages as demonstrates in the two aforementioned texts. Rodriguez points out that he would have been happy to hear his teachers addressing him in Spanish during his first day in the classroom (514). The use of Spanish in a predominantly English environment constitutes bilingual education. According to Rodriguez, a major advantage of bilingual education is that it makes students more confident (514). Such students are more likely to gather enough courage to start participating in classroom activities. However, the bilingual approach is also disadvantageous because it only delays the arduous process through which children become conversant with the predominant language being used in public spaces (Rodriguez 514). The use of bilingual education may easily obscure learners from realizing that they have a public identity to nurture and promote. Such an identity is essential for survival in public spaces. Without speaking a public language, a child may face serious problems in his day-to-day social interactions. Ultimately, this may impede the all-important process through which a child’s develops physically, emotionally, and psychologically into a well-rounded individual.

According to Tan, a major advantage of being bilingual and bilingual is that the individual gains the capability to appreciate the importance of different language varieties in the speakers’ lives (432). Tan points out that being bilingual is a reflection of flexibility in the use of language appropriately in different real-life situations. Tan even gives the example of her mother, who uses broken English as a way of expressing intimacy with close family members. To express intimacy, she uses to use broken English even when she could use the perfect, complex grammatical structures of prestigious American magazines such as Wall Street Journal and Forbes (Tan 432).

The use of different varieties of the same language for different purposes indicates that even languages that are entirely different can be used for both instrumental and emotive gains. However, using a bilingual approach can be disadvantageous for a child because it fails to equip him with the right knowledge about his immediate socio-cultural circumstances. For example, if Richard Rodriguez was not exposed to English at home and in the classroom, he would never have learnt that the English language was his to use despite the fact that he was culturally attached to another language. I also learnt the same lesson when my English teacher punished me severely for speaking in mother tongue. I realized that despite not being  proficient in English, the language was mine to use even in the absence of close friends, family members, and neighbors.

Conclusion

In conclusion, growing in a neighborhood where one’s language or culture is a minority comes with its fair share of challenges and opportunities. Unfortunately, most people tend to dwell too much on challenges. As Richard Rodriguez realized, being bilingual enables an individual to discover not just his private identity but also public identity. Amy Tan’s discussion of different English language varieties also demonstrates the importance of the language of intimacy as well as the language of engagement with the public. Tan’s mother uses simple language for day-to-day familial communication while Tan uses complex, long-winding, grammatical sentences during a public presentation about her life and work. These examples have far-reaching implications for bilingual education. From my own experiences, being bilingual is a good thing because it boosts one’s confidence, thereby creating flexibility in the instrumental and emotive uses of language even by minority cultural groups.

 

Works Cited

Rodriguez, Richard. “Aria: A memoir of a bilingual childhood”. The American Scholar, 50.1 (1981): 25-42.

Tan, Amy. “Mother tongue”, in Vivian Zamel and Ruth Spack (eds.). Enriching Esol Pedagogy: Readings and Activities for Engagement, Reflection, and Inquiry. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print.

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