Setting the Record Straight About Native Languages: Indian Bilingualism
Q: I was reading about an extinct Indian language and you said it was undergoing
"language revival." I thought it was impossible to revive a language once it was dead.
A: It's not impossible. Hebrew didn't have any native speakers when they revived it as
the national language of Israel. But, it is certainly very rare and difficult. Most Indians
who are trying to revive their native language are not aiming for a success such as Israel's--
they want their children to be able to understand their traditional songs and literature, and
to speak the old language as a second language. This is definitely possible. Many kids learn
Latin this way, though Latin is also "dead."
Q: If American Indian kids are raised with their traditional languages, will it
disadvantage them by making them speak English more poorly?
A: No. This is a common misperception because immigrants often have so much difficulty adapting
to English. However, young children who are raised in an English-speaking society but are taught a traditional
language at home or in classes develop the same English skills as monolingual kids. The only difference is that
bilingual children are better at learning additional languages later in life. Exposing children to another
language cannot hurt them, it can only help them.