By Felicia Jennings-Winterle
Bilingual Education / Editorial
1. of no use;
2. not working or not achieving what is needed.
2. helping you to do or achieve something.
Two years ago, a Brazilian newspaper published a note on its Facebook page about the creation of a day to celebrate Portuguese as Heritage Language (May 16th). Surprisingly, we read many followers’ comments saying, among other stupid things, that they were shocked with this initiative created for such a useless language and that, attitudes like that are embarrassing for those who live abroad.
? ? ?
Precisely what I thought. Since then I have been reflecting on the uselessness of a language… can a language be useless?
Language is only one of the many aspects that can define an individual, a community or a nation. It is perhaps one of the most visible identity elements, in addition to the local cuisine or the color of one’s eyes, skin or hair. It communicates many other invisible aspects – one’s way of being, thinking, observing laws, treating people and the environment, working in groups, criticizing, entertaining, learning, growing up.
That is why when we talk about language we are actually talking about who we are. I would even risk to say that, if we consider our own language to be useless… (to the wise, half a sentence is sufficient).
A quick search on Google reveals that Portuguese, official language in 9 countries, is the 6th most spoken tongue in the world by about 260 million people (this number can vary according to the source). In fact, Socialbakers website, says that this useless language is the 3rd most used on Facebook, the biggest social network.
Our language is so useless that its teaching steadily grows around the world. Although there was a fall in Brazil’s popularity, this is not the only country that speaks this language and, therefore, Brazil’s economic and social situation are not the main reasons why people teach and learn this idiom.
We could talk about a lot of other data and statistics that give a prominent position to our language, but I will not do it. I prefer to highlight the modality of teaching and promoting of this idiom to the generations who are born and raised in countries that speak other languages.
In this context, we can add different names and abbreviations, which reveal a kind of disarticulation between researchers and educators, characteristic of the initial steps of a cultural movement. Around here, we call this area of studies Portuguese as a Heritage Language (PHL).
Its uselessness is actually an academic differential. For those who want to enjoy the uncountable benefits of bilingualism, this is a “natural”, kind of “do it yourself”, way to raise a global citizen. Encouraging a minority language within the family context results in a daily experience with at least two languages, since the society is in charge of filling the child’s routine with inputs in the majority language.
It is a differential in regard to relationships, ways of interacting and communicating with family members, peers (at school, work, or in the same community) and people in general. It is already known by many studies that bilingualism shapes the way one thinks, logically reasons, and deals with diversity. However, in my opinion, the possibility of personal fulfilment is the greatest utility of a language.
The promotion of Portuguese as Heritage Language has been a means of formal or informal occupation for at least 500 women (there are men involved with it as well, but the focus is on women) who repurposed their skills and became educators in different contexts.
I am only one of them. I spend all of my days searching, teaching and constructing ways to make this useless language something significant, advantageous and useful in children’s lives.
If in May we have two opportunities to think about the use(lessness) of our language – May 5th is Portuguese Language Day in countries that speak Portuguese and May 16th is Portuguese as Heritage Language Day – this is because no language, especially ours, should ever be considered neglectable. In fact, the reason the Day of PHL was created is very simple – to celebrate this cultural and linguistic teaching/promotion speciality and the multiple initiatives that disseminate this legacy.
I estimate there are about 100 – 150 organizations around the world, which, with limited financial resources but great disposition, do absolutely everything to prove how Portuguese is a useful, necessary and valuable language. The richness and diversity of our language are experienced in proposals of storytelling, book exchange and loans, music, dance, theatre, literacy and traditional festivals. The steady growth of these initiatives has been seen in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Oceania (Australia for Americans) and Africa.
I can’t stop thinking about one thing, though. You may have disagreed with those who defined Portuguese as a useless language, but, how useful has this language been for your kids? Better yet, which advantages will they be able to take of this legacy when they grow up? The inheritance you are leaving to them includes a useful or useless language?
Think about it.
Tradução: Camila Alves
Felicia researchers Portuguese as a Heritage Language and is the Founder and Educational Director of Brasil em Mente, the organization that maintains this platform.
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