When Two Means Nothing: Bilingualism in Post-Soviet Countries

by Hanna Ulasava

In 1991 the USSR was dissolved, leaving the former Soviet countries with an inheritance of economic crisis, ethnic contradictions and – bilingualism. For almost 70 years the Russian language was an instrument for inter-ethnic communication between 15 countries, but alas, it couldn’t disappear with the disappearance of Soviet Union. The 90s’ generation, that was born after dissolvement, literally got their mother tongue – Russian – from their families, and learned their native language outside, at schools, on streets, etc. At that time former Soviet countries just started their movement for national awareness and the 90’s generation wasn’t faced with a choice – they got two languages naturally. However, the 00’s generation was more inclined to give up Russian language. They were born at peak of national awareness movement, when language became an indication of not only cultural, but also political divide. Thus, Ukraine was divided into two parts: west Ukraine, only speaking the Ukrainian language, and “the rest” of Ukraine, speaking both Russian and Ukrainian, but mostly Russian, and these two parts resist each other acutely to this day. In my home country of Belarus, where Russian has the status of a second national language, Belarusian became a symbol of movement for national awareness and, therefore a language of opposition. The civil rights of Russians in Baltic countries were encroached during 90’s-00’s. In Latvia, the unemployment rate among Russians was much higher than among Latvians. Moreover, according to language politics in Latvia and Estonia — learning the native language became a requirement for citizenship in these countries. And in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, if you don’t know the native language, it becomes hard to keep your job. It means that in the former Soviet countries not only did the 90’s generation become bilinguals, but also the older generation, that spoke Russian for almost their whole life, and Russian immigrants to these countries. And nowadays there is a tendency to give up the Russian language.

This brief summary of the situation in former Soviet countries shows that a language that generally should unite people can become a means of disunity. Bilingualism isn’t an advantage in this case – but, since language is inseparable from culture and politics, bilinguals are not well received by both parts of society; they are another indefinite part of it. People there are faced with a choice. Moreover, it is better for them to make a choice in favor of their native language. This means that if their work is not connected to their first language, they gradually give up using it. And I can suppose that the same issue faces immigrants.

Natural bilinguals obviously have advantages, as many researchers say, but it is only a personal advantage, like a special skill that helps to improve other skills. Whereas from society’s point of view this skill is useless, if the bilingual’s work isn’t concerned with language. I believe most post-Soviet society will forget Russian in the nearest future, immigrant’s grandchildren will almost completely forget the language of their grandparents. Globalization makes us to choose according to pragmatics rather than our cultural heritage.

Immigration for children in Japan

by Yuki Muto

Children are victims of immigration. Their parents migrate with their children, even if the children don’t want to go. We learn from the two articles that bilingual children get high grades in their cognitive tests. Then we think, “They should learn not only English but also their mother tongue there” But I think many immigrants can’t. Most immigrants migrate as laborers, and they don’t have enough money to let children learn their language or enough time to communicate and teach with their language.

My aunt teaches Japanese to foreign children. The children learn Japanese earlier than their parents, but their scholastic ability is not high. One reason is the difficulty of learning “in Japanese.” (They can speak Japanese fluently but they can’t read and understand subjects in Japanese.) Another reason is their family background: many immigrant families have trouble providing care for their children. For immigrant children, learning the host country language and adopting Japanese culture are pressing needs to live, and their mother tongue is of low priority, and a “luxury option.” That’s why they tend to lose their mother tongue and their own cultural identity. That show how difficult it is for minorities to keep their cultural background in the host society. Immigrants are required economic power and their cultural capital to live in the society.

Some minorities are closed to their narrow community and feel difficulty in assimilating to Japanese society. In 1989, the Immigration control and refugee recognition act was revised, and the government allowed Japanese Brazilians to stay in Japan as migrant workers. So in some industrial areas (Toyota-city in Aichi, Hamamatsu-city in Shizuoka etc), there are some Brazilian communities. They can work in factories with Brazilian colleagues, and their children can take classes in Portuguese. They can live without being able to speak Japanese fluently. The problem is, once they lose their jobs, they will be isolated from Japanese society. They only can speak Portuguese even though they have worked in Japan. That kind of troubles was occurred in 2008, when the Japanese economy fell into a recession because of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Many Brazilian immigrants lost their jobs and crimes of Brazilian immigrants were reported in the news. That’s because the students in Brazilian school couldn’t get their jobs. Their case is worse, because some of them don’t have any connection to Brazil, and they are not allowed to live as Japanese in Japan.

In my conclusion, all immigrants’ children should have rights to learn same level as children in the country. I hope they will have rights to decide their future living place, their nationality irrespective of their parents’ nationality or economic power.

English education in Japanese elementary school

by Kaho Nagao

Since 2011, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology decided to introduce English class to 5th and 6th grade elementary school students (MEXT 2002). The aim of this project is to produce people who can command English well and build up English communication skill. In this post, I will discuss whether should we introduce English or other languages education, and whether we should introduce bilingualism.

Before talking about the topic, it will describe that what is bilingualism. Bilingualism is people who can make them understood in two languages. Needless to say, there are some differences of ability depends on people and where they use these language, in school, between family, in society and so on. Now in Japan, most people who live in Japan use Japanese and even foreigner who live in Japan use Japanese to communicate with the society. Within Japanese society, English seems to be not needed, however, in the world what happen now?

On the earth, it is said that there are more than 7 billion people and quarter of them speak and understand English (Amelia n.d.). Thus, if you can understand English, we can communicate with more than a billion people. In addition, we can get much information and way of thinking that is if you only use Japanese or any other local languages.

On the other hand, if the government introduces the English education into elementary school, there are also some arguments. Some thinks that if English education start from when kids are little they cannot handle it and kids make many grammar mistakes and get confused, in addition, they cannot command either Japanese or English well. However, if so, many people who can speak English but non-native cannot speak English in a proper way. For example, in Sweden, English education is started in 3rd grade (Sweden English 1979) and most Swedish people can understand English. Since they are young, they are familiar with English TV, movies and music. ABBA, which is famous music group from Sweden, they sing very nice and easy to listen. Of course there are linguistically difference between Japanese and Swedish. Swedish may be near to English compared to Japanese.

From now on Japanese society is heading to aging society and more and more people may go to abroad and come into Japan. At that time we need to communicate with somehow. At that time, English become one of the ways, so when the government especially MEXT realize it and make more useful policy, it is going to be more good to children and Japanese society.


Amelia English in the World http://www.amelia.ne.jp/user/reading/dialect_01_03.jsp

MEXT http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/chousa/shotou/020/sesaku/020702.htm

Hiroshima university. English education in Sweden http://ir.lib.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/metadb/up/ZZT00001/CaseleResBull_9_39.pdf

Immigrants Should be Commended for their Bravery

Anonymous student post

The attitude towards immigrants from nationals that I’ve most often seen is one of “you’re welcome.” As if the immigrant owes something to the national. The national presumably allows the immigrant to stay in their country. The immigrant is treated as a guest, and has higher standards in some regards held to him/her. An immigrant has legal barriers to overcome in almost every country. “You want to work here and help our society like a good citizen? Well we’re not going to make it easy for you, jobs are for citizens—never mind the merits of the job candidates!”

Immigrants have to be outcasts for their entire new life. Only their children, grandchildren or even beyond will get a more equal treatment in the eyes of their new society. Immigrants deal with discrimination on paper from the laws limiting immigrants rights, and tangibly in their day-to-day lives. Barnard mentions the attack on Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant, who was stabbed to death in a hate crime. Barnard mentions, “Many [immigrants] fear the police because they are in the country illegally; some give false names…”. Dealing with prejudice effects the entire immigrant family negatively. The typical immigrant has many more issues to deal with than someone who is nationalized. They need to learn a new set of laws, adapt to new culture, and possibly learn a new language.

Immigrants should be commended for their bravery in leaving their home country to find a life in a new one. They deserve at the very least to be allowed to work in the new country. Why would we disallow someone from being a service to society? The idea that jobs are “taken” by immigrants is a negative aspect of immigration is comically ludicrous. Jobs are not a finite resource, and for each job that is taken there is less work to be done. Society will always naturally find a place for improvement, and new jobs wont ever stop being created. It is harmful to society as a whole to stipulate who can get a job on a basis outside of merit.

In the studies of bilingualism, Portes shows: “…fluent bilinguals [outperform] limited bilinguals and English-only students in standardized tests and grade point averages, even after statistically controlling for parental status and other variables.” Immigrants who are fluently bilingual have cognitive advantages that could further merit their place in the workforce. According to Rumbaut, 97% of the world’s population are “stayers” only about 3% are immigrants. The immigrant minority has a clear disadvantage and we should not have them thank us and beg us to stay. Rather, the immigrants should be commended for their ambition taking heed in a new country. When immigrants come to a country, they are suffering for the benefit of society. The nationals should be thanking the immigrants.

Should the Japanese Government Institute an Education System for Immigrants?

by Megumi Takase

In “International Sociology” class, I was surprised to hear that in Europe, students from other backgrounds take two or three times a week to have lessons in their native languages. In Japan, some elementary schools in which there are many foreign students have Japanese classes for them to understand regular Japanese classes. However, few schools have lessons for immigrants in their own languages. In addition, there are not many ethnic schools in Japan. Even though foreigners living in Japan mostly consist of Chinese, there are only 5 Chinese Schools in Japan. If children from other countries continue to attend Japanese schools and don’t do vigorous effort to learn their history or culture, they will have difficulty in building their identities. This is one of the reasons why foreigners are unwilling to live in Japan for a long time.

In my opinion, Japan should institute an education system for immigrants. For example, it should begin classes for immigrants in their native languages. It not only benefits students from other countries but also Japanese. It will increase the number of immigrants if Japanese education system is reformed in favor of foreigners. Japanese is suffering an aging society, so Japan will face the problem of lack of labor in the near future. Thus, Japan should accept immigrants to solve these problems. In order for foreigners to be willing to come and live in Japan, Japan should create the environment for them to live comfortably. One of reforms which Japan should tackle is education system.

It will also lead to intensification of international competitiveness of Japan if many foreigners immigrate to Japan. It is said that Japanese have difficulty in speaking foreign languages. In the times of globalization, people who are fluent in many languages are needed. If immigrants grow up as bilingual and begin to work in Japanese corporations, they will largely contribute to corporations.

If Japanese government begins to institute an education system for immigrants, many people will come from other countries and live in Japan. They will serve Japanese society. It is difficult for schools to begin classes for immigrants in their native languages because immigrants come from different countries around the world. Schools should create these classes cooperating with the local universities specializing in foreign languages. It will also lead to create Japanese bilingual students.


[i] Weblio. (n.d.). Retrived October 17, 2013 from http://www.weblio.jp/ontology/%E4%B8%AD%E8%8F%AF%E5%AD%A6%E6%A0%A1_1

Are foreign languages a threat to the host country culture and language?

by Glenn Soenvisen

In the mid-90’s a new term, “Kebab-Norwegian,” was coined in Norway; it meant the dialect of the Norwegian language which contained relatively many loanwords from non-western immigrants. This term was soon picked up and used vigorously by the media, where it sometimes was stated as a reason for the deterioration of the “real” Norwegian language. In some extreme cases it was even stated that the verb was put in the wrong place when speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” and female and neuter gender nouns became male. Some even said that it brought unwanted culture into the country, stating that degrading non-western words for “females” were used to refer to females in general. In short, some people perceived “Kebab-Norwegian” as a threat to the “real” Norwegian culture and language. Therefore, we needed assimilation of the users in order to retain our national identity and values.

What I find funny about this, though, is how little basis there are for these utterances. For one thing, “Kebab-Norwegian” is only used in the eastern parts of the Norwegian capital Oslo by immigrant youth and their possible native Norwegian friends; it’s an ethnolect rather than a dialect, and there has been no proof of it spreading to other parts of the country, as is only logical since ethnolects are associated with specific ethnic or cultural subgroups. You could say it is an in-group way of speaking.

And that brings me to another thing worth pointing out: the ethnolect in question is spoken, not written. Sure, users may write it when chatting online through facebook and the like, but those services are closed networks and not available to everyone. Furthermore, even Norwegians may write in their own dialects in such contexts, but it doesn’t seem to affect their ability to write correctly written Norwegian when needed.

Moreover, considering that “Kebab-Norwegian” is almost exclusively used by youths, the users of it are most likely bilingual, or even trilingual, having learned “real” Norwegian from a very young age, as well as English which are being taught from early elementary school level. Keeping this in mind we can take a look at what Alejandro Portes writes in his feature article “English-only triumphs, but the costs are high:” bilinguals outperform their monolingual counterparts in almost all cognitive tests.

In short, immigrants speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” should have no more difficulty in using suitable language to suitable situations on the same level as native Norwegians do. That learning two or more languages at the same time makes for underdeveloped ability in both/all is a thought for the 1930’s.

Besides, even Norwegians themselves mess with the genders of the nouns. I myself use all three genders (male, female, neuter), but in some parts of Norway the female one doesn’t exist. There’s also often the case that nouns can be used as both male and female. What’s more, the new rages in the language debate is that native Norwegian children are more and more using the sound sh [ ʃ ] where kj [ ç ] should be used and, to a lesser degree, using the word hvem (who) where hvilken (which) should be used.

Lastly, it’s not like degrading words for females in general is exclusive to non-western languages. I dare say that bitch is, unfortunately, used extensively in informal spoken English and Norwegian both.

Of course, foreign languages may have influence on the national language and culture, but only in minor ways, such as adding words which we don’t have any words for in our own language, replacing interjections, or introducing new foods. However, this cannot be considered a threat at all. Rather than threatening, the influences enrich and enhance, like an add-on to your browser. If “Kebab-Norwegian” really was a threat, one can wonder why the English influence, which is much bigger, hasn’t made us all speak “Norwish” yet. There is no need for complete assimilation.

Bilingual Education in Japan

by Misa Fukutome

In Japan it has become popular to send one’s child to a bilingual school along with the increase of foreigners. Hence, there is an increase of bilingual schools in Japan. However, there is a problem that occurs that the expectation of the parents and the children tend to misunderstand, because when the children are young and have not developed a sense of identity, going to a bilingual school is not a problem. Then children grow up and realise that they have their own identity and become more self conscious, which leads to the next problem of their imperfection of their second language they are speaking. For example if the children are going to a English bilingual school, because of their environment around them is in Japanese they don’t find the need to speak English, or having an education in English because it is easier in Japanese.

Yasuko Kanno wrote “Imagined Communities, School Visions, and the Education of Bilingual Students in Japan,” in which she compares 4 different types of bilingual schools.

The first one is an English bilingual school where the majority of the students have no bilingual background and their knowledge towards English is zero. The reason why those Japanese students are sent there is because the parents enroll their children in the bilingual school, because they believe that it is important for the 21st century children to be able to bilingual. However, the problem is that as mentioned above they have no use of English in their everyday life that their language perfection is very low.

The second type of bilingual school is Chinese-Japanese. Their curriculum is that they start off with mainly Chinese and then gradually the main focus goes to Japanese by the time the students are in junior high. This school is designed for the 4th- and 5th-generation Chinese children whose native language is Japanese. Not to to forget to mention even though most children attending are 4th or 5th generation, there are also children that have just moved from mainland China, and there is a minority of full-Japanese students attending this school. Here too the problem of the main communication language occurs, because of this system of fading into main Japanese courses their ability to express themselves in Chinese becomes limited.

The third type is the other way around in terms of main language, because this is an international school. If one looks at where the international schools are located, one might see that it is placed where there are a lot of international businesses, diplomatic work, or where there are hāfu (half-Japanese and half-foreign). Because financially those groups of people are able to afford expensive education, the children going there are expected to have a high level of English, since it is an international school. However, since the school is located in Japan, there are some Japanese programs such as arts and social studies, and of course Japanese language courses. Here the problem is that the western, or English-speaking students do not make an effort in learning Japanese, since at home they do not necessarily speak Japanese or they can get by in their daily life with English.

The fourth type of school is also focused on  location. There are Japanese public schools that are located in a community that has a lot of foreigners, who have mainly blue-collar jobs. Since there are few programs to support bilingual education in Japanese public schools, those schools must find their own solutions, including supporting the children who must learn Japanese as a second language by providing extra Japanese lessons, but those supports are limited.

In the end I would like to say that education is very important but I think we get off-track because of this idea of being INTERNATIONAL or BILINGUAL, so we do not look at our children and see what is best for them. I have gone through Japanese school (NOT BILINGUAL SCHOOL) and international school and what I have learned is that I am glad that I could perfect my Japanese first then my English, but I am not saying that this is right for all children. I imagine that it is very hard for the schools too, to make a curriculum for children who are bilingual and who are not, and the level comes into play too. We can always have ideals and expectation for the best but it is not always right for everybody.

Great effects of second language

by Mayu Uehara

Language is one of a given tool for people to communicate. It can show our emotion, identify ourselves and also built relationship. First three months of my life in Canada, I had been stressful because only English was spoken there and couldn’t speak Japanese. Now I can speak English but this is because my friends and many people there tried hard to understand me and also taught me English. In Japan, there are lots kinds of immigrants who are struggling with their life. They are isolated and also tend to gather together with common race. There should be necessity of community project to teach people second languages for not only immigrants but also local people. There are three reasons for supporting my opinion. First, the numbers of immigrants has increased. Second, community should make better society for citizens. Third, bilingualism can make numbers of chances for every people.

In reality, globalization can’t be avoided. Now the numbers of immigrants has increased and as social changes in Japan, numbers of elderly people will be twice as much as youth, therefore we need more hands from overseas. In addition, in the aspects of business, it’s hard enough to pursue profit only inside of Japan so that there are lots of Japanese corporate progressing overseas and compete with global corporate. This means language especially English is important to success and also sustain Japanese society.

Second, though globalization is inevitable social change, local people is not used to be with immigrants yet. There are some racial difficulties such as Korean resident in Japan, Brazilian workers in Japan and so on. There are Korean or Brazilian communities in some parts but they are isolated from community mostly. For instance, Brazilian who come to Japan for working can’t read Japanese of course so they don’t know about social rules such as how to wrap garbage and when they should put them on the road. Only if there are any languages to communicate, they don’t have to have troubles. It’s difficult to make country to regulate bilingualism, however; community should be flexible to those community changes. If the community has lots of Brazilian residents, it should have some chances to provide citizens of the community to learn Japanese, English or Portuguese so that they can communicate each other to make their society better. These community movements also tie not only between local people and immigrants but also between local people themselves. If the bonds become tight in community, we’ll deal with current problems such as DV, crime, and urgent disasters.

Third, bilingualism can provide us many effects. If we speak only Japanese, we can communicate with Japanese speakers but it’s seldom to speak with foreigner because Japanese speaker of foreigners are not so many. If we have second language such as English, Spanish, and Chinese and so on, we can travel overseas, use it in business occasions, make foreign friends, and learn other cultures or sense of values. These effects can make our choices of life styles way broad. If numbers of communities, which support learning second language increase, lots of Japanese can have global senses and also choices of their life styles.

In conclusion, it’s necessary for Japan to live with immigrants and we need to protect them not only for them but also for ourselves. Second language can be great supporter to live our own life better and also it must need to keep up with other countries. Community can provide great impacts by progressing bilingualism for tie of citizenship, activation of society and broad choices of citizen’s life styles.


The Benefits of Being Bilingual

by Sayaka Umei

Bilingualism is the ability of people to speak in two languages fluently. If this “fluency” would be defined as “to be able to speak, understand, read, and write well in a language (“English-only triumphs, but the costs are highby Alejandro Portes),” most of the bilinguals were born in the different country from their parents’. There are the arguments whether the bilingualism is good or not, and in my opinion the bilingualism is good for their career and ability. I will begin with the positive points and negative points, and lead the new problems through these points

According to Portes, the strong points for bilingualism are that it is good for the brain, which is good for cognitive development, enhances the cohesion of the family unit or culture of the home country, and keeps or establishes self-esteem well. On the contrary, the negative points of it are that it might get children confused or it is hard for them to acquire two languages at the same time. However, these negative points are not true. Scientifically learning two languages at the same time is good for their brains because they develop differently through learning.

Here, new three problems are coming up through expansion of the multiculturalism and bilingualism. First, the idea of “English-plus” by Portes is that people can speak in one language except for English and “plus” they can speak in another language. If these people do not have parents who speak in different language from the language where they live, they cannot get the environment to speak in English. So they need the environment for it, such as school system. However, this kind of school system is not common. Just some special schools have this English-another language system.

Second, bilingualism can enhance family or culture cohesion, but it could threaten the unit of the host country. That means people keep their home countries’ language so they also keep the home culture as well. Some people would get together and make community. If it might get bigger and have a certain mind or idea, it could threaten the host country.

Third, there is the idea of “cultural capital” by Portes. This means the United States leads this world and the most spoken language around the world is English. Socially and politically people whose first language is English do not need to speak other languages because most people can speak in English or try to learn English to have communication. That also means most people who are bilingual or who want to speak in one more language can speak in English. That cannot be really said “multiculturalism” according to Portes because it just English culture plus other cultures.

In conclusion, there is misunderstanding for bilingualism among many people all over the world and some people do not know the benefit from it. After children growing up, then they realized the benefit, but it is too late to be bilingual. Or some country would be worried about their unity against this global society. What people need in this society, where the bilinguals are getting common, is that they have to understand what bilingualism is well and what is needed as career in this global society in order to solve these problems.

Global Citizenship and Identity

by Eriko Maruyama

As one society is shifting from homogenizing society to multicultural one because of the increase of immigration, the problem of language is always controversial. In the United States, the increase of Hispanic immigrants is very remarkable, so it has been worried that Spanish would replace English. However, the fear was found to be wrong (Portes, A, 2002). The fact is that the migrants have getting to manage English as younger generations grow up. Almost 3rd generation of the migrants cannot speak their mother language but they only can speak English. Thus, the assimilation to English has been proceeding, while unities of mother languages have been getting weak. Does the collapse of language unity lead to the chaotic society?

In response to the tendency of immigrants’ loss of its original culture, the immigrants’ dominant society has launched to set bilingual education to maintain their mother languages. In these bilateral schools, students have subsidiary classes in their mother languages. According to the reading, this dual language education has been successful, and students can handle two languages fluently. Moreover, some school organise this dual language education even for students whose native languages are English. I disagree with this education system because equitable education must be regarded at least in public schools. I suppose that we cannot make agreeable selection of language in the multicultural society. Therefore, I would suggest the education which will make ‘global citizenship’.

One of the authoritative international organizations, Oxfam, defines the global citizen as people who is “aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen”, “respects and values diversity” and “is outraged by social injustice” (Oxfam Education). It is obviously important to have one common language, which means English, in order to communicate each other and create better society altogether. However, more importantly, we need to welcome the diversity of sense of values and respect them each other. In this context, the compulsory dual language education does not make sense at all. The objective of the dual education system is to preserve the original culture. But in my opinion, it is possible to maintain own original culture even we speak English because what makes society tied is not the language, but the common hope for the peaceful society. We can have two identities; our original culture identity and the identity as global citizen.

I have asked my European friends about their identity. They told me that they have two identities as their origin countries, such as Italian or German, and as the citizen in European Union. They speak different languages but they share the same future goals for the peaceful society. And their sense of identity has been built through the education. Therefore, I believe that it is possible to have more than two identities at the same time and to create diverse, but peaceful society. The lost of linguistic unity in the immigrants’ society does not lead to the chaotic society. It means that people create whole new identities as their original countries’ citizen and as the member of this planet. The common hope is much more important than forcing to speak fixed language. Lastly, I would quote the speech of the President Barack Obama:

“I believe we can keep the promise of our founding, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight.” (Guardian.co.uk, 2012, cited in http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/07/barack-obama-speech-full-text)

As President Obama declared, it does not matter what kind of identity we have. The most important thing is that we respect the diversity and go forward for the creation of unified society as a member of global citizens.


Guardian.co.uk (2012), Barack Obama’s victory speech – full text, [online]. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/07/barack-obama-speech-full-text [2012, November 11]

Oxfam Education, What is Global Citizenship?, [online]. Available: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/education/gc/what_and_why/what/ [2012, November 11]

Portes, A (2002) ‘English-only triumphs, but the costs are high’. SAGE Journals, vol. 1, February, pp 10-15.