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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."

Here is Laura's excellent essay about reviving extinct languages.

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.



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