Bilingual in Chile by 2020. For the one, an impossible dream. For the other, reality. Let me hasten to explain.
English is a very powerful, prestigious language. It is literally, “money in the bank” for those people who learn it as a second language, or a foreign language, as is the case in Chile.
English is used as the language of international business, commerce, tourism and travel. If you speak English, you have the legitimate aspiration to earn more money, have a higher quality of life, and broader educational opportunities. English is something that can make you healthy, wealthy, and wise. Very few people would argue with that.
In light of such tremendous individual and collective benefits, then I ask, “why isn’t Chile already a bilingual country?”
The answer might come as a surprise to you. Chile is already a multilingual, multicultural, multiethnic country. Besides Spanish, Chilean citizens speak Rapa Nui, Aymara, Quechua, and Mapudungun. Granted, these are indigenous languages. There is little prestige, little social and economic power connected to speaking an indigenous language.
Nonetheless, let us not fool ourselves. A child who learns Aymara, Quechua, Rapa Nui or Mapudungun as his/her mother language, at home, must learn a new language at school, a second language, Spanish. And the children do this wonderfully, becoming bilingual in the prestige language – Spanish – and maintaining their cultural heritage in the indigenous language. In other words, Chile has a tremendous amount of people who are bilingual.
So why can’t we add another language to our multilingual, multicultural society? That’s a big question, with a lot of variables, and no easy answer that will suit everyone. But I wish to be clear on one very important point: Chile is already a bilingual country. We don’t have to wait until 2020…