In August of 2004, Tamari Jenkins and Krishauna Hines-Gaither met in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Both women were there as directors of their respective Spanish immersion programs and they immediately recognized their mutual passion for promoting languages in the African American community. They began brainstorming about a networking organization in which African American educators and students in the field of world languages could find support. From these initial conversations, African American Linguist (AAL) was born.
From 2004 to today, AAL has grown significantly. They have become a premier organization uniting African-Americans who share an affinity for world languages and offering support to upcoming linguists. In light of this, AAL now provides scholarship and classroom resources, offers presentations and training courses, and attends conferences and regional meetings. They also have meetups.
According to founder, Dr. Krishauna Hines-Gaither:
“The Organization of African American Linguists is almost 15 years old. We have network members and affiliates in most states and around the world. African American Linguists continues to offer support and resources to our members in order to promote linguistic competence. To date, we have granted over a dozen scholarships to students who are studying world languages. The African American Linguists scholarship has assisted students to travel to Spain, Uruguay, Beijing and more. We are excited about the roots that our organization has laid, and we look forward to what the future holds.”
But what does the future hold for African American linguists and those wanting to become bilingual? Quick answer: More access to one another due to changing technology.
As a result of increased DNA testing, the explosion of African American Heritage Tourism amongst travelers of color is one example of how technology is creating more access to Afro-Latinx and Afro-francophone cultures, but there are more. “Given modern-day technology and greater access to goods and services, there are many mechanisms available that serve to bridge historical divides. They include, although not limited to, DNA testing, higher education, the internet, immigration, and world travel,” states Dr. Hines-Gaither. ” These mechanisms have opened the doors for African descendants to learn about their shared history and heritage.”
AAL believes that language acts as another medium for creating bonds across the Diaspora. “Given that language and culture are inextricably linked, the more that African-Americans master world languages, the more freedom there is to connect to our brothers and sisters of the African diaspora.”
Aside from the benefit of bridging the divide amongst people across the diaspora, there are quite a few other benefits to bilingualism. On their site, the organization breaks down all of the business and social benefits of bilingualism. These include:
- A positive effect on intellectual growth.
- Enriches and enhances mental development.
- Leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening.
- Improves one’s understanding of his/her native language.
- Gives a person the ability to communicate with people s/he would otherwise not have the chance to know.
- Opens the door to other cultures and helps one to understand and appreciate people from other countries.
- Gives a student a head start in language requirements for college.
- Increase job opportunity in many careers where knowing another language is a real asset.