BETWEEN THEN AND NOW: Anglo-argentinean Bilingualism

M.A. Marcia Kent

BETWEEN THEN AND NOW: Anglo-argentinean Bilingualism

(Entre el Pasado y el Hoy: Bilinguismo Anglo-Argentino)
In Argentina bilingualism is viewed with respect, approval and commendation. The general attitudes toward bilingualism are positive. Society considers it to be a worthwhile accomplishment if a person masters a second language, especially if that language is English, which is recognized as a universal language, the one that the children of Argentina will need tomorrow to succeed and to compete in the world work force.

This meaning of bilingualism in our country cannot be separated from its historical roots, which has generated a socio-political context specific to language planning, a central issue in Argentinean education.Emilia Ferreiro (1994) states that the drama of the America conquest has had important linguistic implications.Usually the conquered were more in need of being understood and accepted by the conquerors, and they adapted too easily and assimilated the new languages.The conquerors never consider the possibility that they would be assimilated into the culture already existent in this continent, or even entertain the idea that they would be integrated with the indigenous people of this land. The conquerors imposed their rights over the conquered in an act of linguistic power.

Language diversity is not a feature of the past.After centuries of the conquest of America, it is not difficult to find similarities in actions and attitudes between the Spanish conquerors and the large number of British people who came to Argentina in the first half of the century speaking, reading and writing English.Mainly railroad workers, many of them stayed on when their contracts expired, joining earlier settlers in establishing a substantial English- speaking community. Up to and including the present generation, this community is trying to preserve its language and culture (Eayrs, 1995). But there are now definite signs that the English traditionally spoken is changing along with the culture influence that has been integrated with some Argentinean ingredients. Few Anglo-Argentineans under the age of 25 now are completely proficient in English compared with the previous two generations of the 1930s and 1940s. Today the bilingual school that includes among its student body a child who speaks English at home considers itself lucky (Eayrs, 1995). It is not difficult to realize that as a result of the lack of a vital and organic speech community, the culture and language that has bound this Anglo-Argentinean group together is different today from that of the 30s and 40s. They call themselves Argentineans, Anglo-Argentineans or British descendants.

Context of English Learning in Argentina

The development of English as a foreign language program in Argentina can be traced to socio-cultural, linguistic, political and economic changes in society. As most countries in the world, Argentina has become a complex society and it is facing important social and economic problems. Considerable education is necessary for basic participation economically and culturally in the society. This country was a colony of an European nation and today it maintains negotiations and connections with different countries in the world. There is a strong need for mass literacy (Goodman, Goodman & Flores, 1979) and it appears that literacy solely in the national language, Spanish, will be limiting. The need to read texts in other languages to succeed in tertiary education seems to require literacy instruction in a foreign language in elementary and secondary schools. The language of choice in this regard is usually English because it is considered to be universal. Argentina is not a monolingual country. There are native languages used in some parts of the country (Menegotto,1994). There are also minority groups, such as Koreans, Chinese, Germans and Italians, who live in different sections of the country whose languages, religions and traditions are different from the majority, although many of them speak Spanish as a second language in order to work and function in this society. However, most people consider English to be the most valuable language to keep up with the demands of the modern world.

The history of our education shows that only those fortunate people who belong to an upper socio-economic status can receive literacy education in a foreign language. Today, the federal government had passed a new Federal Law of Education, which assures that in all public schools of the country, all students will receive literacy instruction in English as a foreign language. Public schools in Argentina come from a tradition of literacy in Spanish, although families who send their children to those schools place an important value on English literacy learning even though they can not afford it (Jackson, 1995). The community attitude towards literacy in English is very positive. Most people understand that the dynamics of the society require it.


Eayrs, M. (1995). Is there an Argentine English? Buenos Aires Herald. Educational Supplement, (15).

Ferreiro, E. (1994). Diversidad y proceso de alfabetizacion: De la celebración a la toma de conciencia. Lectura y Vida, 15: (3), 5-14.

Goodman, K., Goodman, Y.& Flores, B. (1979). Reading in the Bilingual Classroom:Literacy and Biliteracy. National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.Rosslyn, Virginia.

Jackson, S. (1995). A window to the future is open. Buenos Aires Herald, Educational Supplement,(9).

Menegoto, A. (1994). La escuela frente al habla regional: la norma, el error y la corrección en escuelas rurales de Neuquén y Río Negro. Paper presented at 15th Congreso Mundial de la Asociación Internacional de Lectura.