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Center Ideas: The Multilingual Superheroes in Our Lives

Being Bilingual is a Superpower” is an initiative by the U.S. Department of Education (Department) that promotes multilingual education and bolsters nationwide high-quality language programs and a diverse multilingual educator workforce. The national convening event featured Secretary Cardona speaking on his vision and the Department’s efforts and actions to provide every student a pathway to multilingualism. 

When thinking about this initiative, what especially resonates with me is the exploration of pathways that support students who already enter the school system with one, two, or more languages, representing their ancestry, heritage, families and kinship supports, and communities. The support of those languages alongside English creates the multilingual educational context that the Department envisions.

At this event, I learned that there are approximately 350 named languages and dialects spoken in the United States. This prompted me to reflect on what that linguistic diversity means in my home state of Virginia. 


Languages and dialects I've encountered in Virginia

A list of languages and dialects reads: Tagalong/Filipino, Ilocano, Bisaya/Cebuano, Vietnamese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Ukrainian, Powhatan, Atakapa, Pohnpeian, Kosraean, Appalachian, Piedmont, Tidewater, and Tangier.


This is all just a small sampling based on my own experiences throughout the Commonwealth. Expanding to the Region 5 Comprehensive Center (R5CC) as a whole, it’s likely there are dozens—potentially even hundreds—of distinct languages and dialects spoken across Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia!

This sheer number is just one way to quantify the linguistic richness of Region 5. Another is to consider the region’s growing population size of multilingual learners (MLs) in the school systems: as of Fall 2020, according to data from the Appalachia Regional Advisory Committee Report, there were approximately 203,000 English Learners. The Being Bilingual is a Superpower initiative changes the framing of how these students are viewed as well as their potential: these are 203,000 superheroes with the ability to speak, listen, read, and write in one, two, or more languages in addition to English. Many of these superheroes have maintained their superpowers since birth, while others are on an important journey to reclaim their superpowers by learning from their elders (who may be some of the last speakers of their language). And some are gaining their superpowers for the first time through the school context.

Whatever role you might play within the region to support the superheroes around you in honing their linguistic skills, the R5CC is standing by to support you with additional resources and connections to organizations on this topic. R5CC can:

If you would like additional information on these or other supports, please contact the R5CC.