The Impact of Bilingual Education on Indigenous Language and Culture: The case of Tapirape
Maria Gorete Neto
UNICAMP, Brazil and UT, Austin1
Numerous studies indicate that many indigenous languages around the world are headed for extinction and will disappear within the next century (Krauss, 1992; Hale,1992; Nettle & Romaine, 2000). To preserve and revive these languages, both indigenouspeople and researchers (e.g. Krauss, 1992, Hinton, 2001) acknowledge that bilingual schools are an important resource for increasing the chances of language survival.
However, many such ‘bilingual’ schools have been ineffective due to the pressure imposed by the dominant languages, which causes many of these schools to neglect the indigenous languages. Nevertheless, there are some bilingual schools that have been teaching both indigenous and dominant languages effectively — Tapirape (central Brazil) is a case in point. The Tapirape school can be considered a successful example of an indigenous school for several reasons. Its curriculum takes into account the indigenous culture, all teachers are natives, the primary language of instruction is Tapirape, and, in addition, it includes a strong program of teaching Portuguese as second language, which develops the indigenous students’ ability to communicate satisfactorily in the dominant non-indigenous language as well. Despite the effective bilingual instruction, however, Tapirape teachers and leaders have argued that the school has changed the Tapirape lifestyle in negative as well as positive ways.
This study addresses the effects of bilingual schooling on the Tapirape language and culture. This discussion is based on participant observation from audio-recorded interviews in which teachers and leaders discuss their bilingual school and its consequences for the Tapirape people. The study demonstrates that even an effective bilingual school may introduce considerable complexities for an indigenous community, which may have a direct impact on cultural and linguistic maintenance. While no simple solutions are at hand, we propose that a continuous evaluation and on-going reconstruction of aspects of the school, directed by the community, is an essential part of assessing and reducing these concerns.
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