October 20, 2021

Orient: (Merriam Webster, collegiate dictionary, 2021)

1: to direct toward the interests of a particular group

2: to set right by adjusting to facts or principles 

I travel a fair amount (or I did before the worldwide pandemic). Last trip I took (pre-COVID 19) was to Mexico. When I travel I do my research. I look up transportation, places to eat, visit, explore. When I’m in “unfamiliar” spaces I do the homework of getting to know the cultural expectations and figuring out how to orient or direct myself towards my interests according to the facts. And yet, when we’re at home we assume we know all there is to know. Because of that, we take a certain route to work every day, perhaps out of habit or perhaps out of ignorance, until we discover more information, a better way. In daily situations, we have our experiences and predispositions and with that, we can overlook opportunities to meaningfully direct (or orient) ourselves towards making decisions that fall in line with the facts and our principles. 

Language planning is the practice of making intentional (although not always so obvious) decisions that influence language systems. When these plans result in decisions for languages and communities, they create language policy. 

Language policy can be explicit, obvious, overt, codified, in writing.

Language policy can also be implicit, unapparent, covert, and still observable.  

Since humans are creatures that rely heavily on social communication, it is arguable that all spaces have language policies, whether implicit or explicit. Whether you are intentionally creating or restricting spaces for languages and their communities, it is happening. Therefore, this week we introduce different orientations language policies can take. 

Orientations Defined 

Heinz Kloss (1998) identifies three language policy orientations and provides examples throughout history. In this entry we will introduce the three orientations (Restrictive, Tolerance and Promotion) identified by Kloss and give examples of each. 

We’ll start with the two extremes, Restrictive and Promotion. 

Restrictive orientation, as you may guess, is identified as language policy that restricts access to resources and opportunities by requiring proficiency in one language. Ex. “You must speak ___ language”.  

An example of this would be the Naturalization Act of 1906, requiring immigrants to learn English in order to become naturalized citizens. Another example would be in Meyer v Nebraska (1923) where German was prohibited as a language of instruction. Note the timing of the restriction coincides with political tensions and ethnocentric sentiments towards the German language community. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples throughout US and Global history. However, due to civil and human rights efforts, many overtly restrictive cases (in the U.S.) would be battled in court cases to determine the unconstitutionality of restrictive language policies. While there are less extreme overt examples of explicit restrictive language policy compared to the early 19th century within the U.S., organizations such as English-Only movement still exist in an effort to limit the rights and opportunities of multilinguals. 

Conversely, promotion orientation, is identified as language policy that promotes the use and acquisition of multilingualism in public spaces. 

There are significantly less examples of this orientation. However, they exist. In response to the English Only movement a movement titled English Plus was formed to promote multilingualism. In the promotion of multilingual programs such as Two-Way Immersion and Dual Language programs (where students are instructed in two languages content level curriculum) have emerged. In these spaces, (when created with a critical lens) opportunities for equity and diversity are promoted. However, promotion orientation can also run into trouble when programs that were intended to support language minority students are co-opted by language majority students. This situation often presents itself as “enrichment” opportunities for English dominant students and thereby limits or restricts spaces for multilinguals, the very students for whom the program was initially intended #duallanguagegentrification. Therefore, the orientation of a language policy needs to be thoughtfully planned and implemented, frequently revised, and adjusted. Which rarely happens due to lack of funds, prioritization, and awareness. 

So, that leaves us with the last of Kloss’ orientations, Tolerance orientation. On the surface, this orientation seems to be the middle ground. “Not” taking a side. Tolerant of linguistic diversity. “If I’m not restricting language then I’m not the bad guy.” Unfortunately, tolerance orientation can lead to more problematic outcomes than initially expected. 

Tolerance (Merriam Webster collegiate dictionary, 2021)

1 a capacity to endure pain or hardship

2  sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own the allowable deviation from a standard 

Tolerance orientation is the most sneaky because the label seems to indicate a “neutral” stance. Tolerance or inaction is a choice with consequences. Tolerating diversity does not enable the critical discussion to engage in equitable decision-making. In best case scenario with tolerance orientation, we end up exactly where we are, with the current power dynamics that we have seen in the past. 

We have seen examples throughout history with programs and policies that amplify English learning and limit additional languages with the exception of the annual “Multicultural Night”. We see this when educators are encouraged to make their curriculum linguistically and culturally diverse, but the state and national exams only measure their English acquisition. We see this when employers say they are seeking candidates that speak more than one language, but only value individuals whose English proficiency presents as they expect.

These decisions to “tolerate” multilingualism are not neutral, they can in fact be more insidious than overt restriction because it can be more challenging to identify and address. 

Orientations in Practice

The purpose of highlighting these orientations is to begin to create awareness around how organizations and people can make decisions that consciously and purposefully promote language diversity.

How are you promoting, restricting, tolerating language diversity?

When you are in spaces with other languages do you ask questions, attempt to use the language?

When you are in spaces do you “shy” away from opportunities to engage in different languages, not even attempting to pronounce someone’s name, saying “I only speak English.”

Do you see someone outright restricting language “If you don’t speak English we can’t help you”.

In that circumstance, what do you do? 

Nobody thrives in a restricted environment.

But tolerating languages is not passive. It is actively limiting your voice, your power, your ability to advocate for equitable language practices. We must intentionally and actively orient towards promoting linguistic diversity to create and preserve spaces for multilinguals to thrive and share their linguistic assets with their communities. 


Dra. Rivera Pagán 


Kloss, H. (1998). The American bilingual tradition. Center for Applied Linguistics.

P.S. If you would like to share your experiences with language policies, comment on this blog post 🗣🎧📖✍🏽👀🤟🏽

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  1. MC DeSimone says:

    “Tolerance or inaction is a choice with consequences… best case scenario with tolerance orientation, we end up exactly where we are…”

    This reminds me of the saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result”…. we can never hope for change when mere tolerance is the goal. Educators- and those who dare to govern us- must be held accountable in the creation and maintenance of spaces in which language diversity and emergent bilingualism is not only promoted but truly celebrated.