July 30, 2021

Language policy has affected me my entire life and I wasn’t even aware of it.  

Born in Puerto Rico, I entered a space where language policy has been an explicit conversation for over a century. Tensions between how Spanish is used and how English is added or resisted have been embedded in conversations since the colonization of the island in 1898. In these political and historical spaces, it can be easier to identify how language policies affect change (positive and negative) and we are more readily able to identify their consequences:

English-only programming

Bilingual programming

Restricting language support in home languages

Government funds supporting the promotion of one language versus another

These are tangible consequences to language policy.

However, language policy is practiced in every setting where choices are made about language(s) promotion, tolerance or restriction. And every public space makes intentional and/or unintentional decisions around what language(s) to use, when to use them and how to use them.

The teachers and speech pathologists who recommend focusing on only one language where the home language is not the dominant language (often English).

The school districts that choose English support over bilingual programming, when possible.

The language teachers that discourage students from taking courses in their home language for fear that it will be too easy, not taking into account the student’s language goals.

The stores and restaurants that have or have not considered how to support additional language communities in their area (additional languages, language varieties, and support for the deaf community).

The government agencies that provide support to communities, IF and WHEN you complete the necessary paperwork in the dominant language.  

When I highlight how language policy has limited multilingual spaces it is not with the intention of criticizing any particular group. I instead think it is important to be critical of a system that has assumed the place of certain languages in spaces of power and ignored other languages that are valuable resources in an increasingly globalized society. Further, the objective of LPC is not to mandate that all languages be represented at all times. Instead, the objective is to engage in a critical conversation considering how languages are used and they interact with power relations. This space seeks to provoke thoughtful dialogue about how and why you are using language, and how different choices can lead to different outcomes. 

So, I challenge you to consider:

How has language policy affected you?

How has it affected the support you received, the judgments placed on you, or the way you communicate?

How has it affected the judgments you place on other languages or ways of communicating?

Understanding how language is learned, how systems support/restrict multilingual practices, how society interacts with the tensions of multilingualism and the intersectionality of identities is how I gain power. Knowledge helps me to label the ideologies, systems, and power dynamics that are present. And by knowing, seeing, labeling I can decide how to move forward for me in a way that aligns with my value of multilingualism as a resource. 

Professionally I have taught Spanish for over a decade in several public schools systems grades Pre-K to University. I earned a Master’s in Teaching at Johns Hopkins in 2009. I completed my doctorate in 2021 at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Educational Leadership in Changing Populations. My specialty focuses on educational language policies and the intersection of multilingual ideologies and orientations. My passion is education, discussing and elevating conversations on language abilities, acquisition, and language ideologies. In this space, I work to unpack how language has and can create access for all.

Language is highly personal and the choices we make around how to use language are directly associated with our identities and values. This space encourages individuals to engage in these “courageous conversations”, or as we say in my household: 

“Let’s get ready for some uncomfortable conversations”.


Dra. Rivera PagĂĄn

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