Language Education Policy Studies
An International Network

LEP by World Region

LEP by World Region

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Americas—Central, Indigenous, and South 

This page gives a very brief overview of language-in-education policy issues for Central and South America. Countries will be added in the future. A few factors have influenced the language-in-education issues for Central and South America that have unsurprisingly taken a different trajectory than North America, despite the common 1492-origin history. These factors include the prevalence of larger numbers of Indigenous language speakers than immigrants, and the history of overt political violence after decolonization. While English as a Lingua Franca discourses also exist (see ELF) and are powerful in maintaining an elite (see also Higher Education), dominant language debates are around Spanish or Portuguese as the colonial language.  This within itself has issues of the legitimation of local varieties juxtaposed with standardized Castilian (from Spain). See Variations.


Immigrant language issues exist for Middle Eastern immigrants who have been in various countries (Mexico, Brazil, Honduras) for over a century; as well as Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and others to various countries.


Like the United States and Canada, many Indigenous groups inhabited the islands and land. Numbers are debated and difficult to ascertain, partly because of the much-debated historical aspect regarding genocide and population decimation, and also because less academic linguistic research has been done there. Bolivia and Guatemala’s Indigenous populations have numerical majorities, and Columbia and Ecuador have large Indigenous populations, while Venezuela has a smaller one, and Uruguay has none (Lopez & Sichra, 2008). Two languages have over a million speakers (Quechua, and Aymara), and Brazil has over 700 languages (Lopez & Sichra, 2008). Language status indicators vary by organization as well (See Language status, World Languages), but in numbers there are many languages with seemingly large populations perhaps due to more isolation and less assimilation. Indigenous social and political activism through educational initiatives may be ahead of the United States in terms of activism and decentralization of decision-making for traditional education curriculum. Groups such as IBE or BIE (Intercultural Bilingual or Bilingual Intercultural Education) work to include not only bilingual education but Indigenous knowledge incorporation. 


Spanish & Portuguese influence:

Little history of Spanish language: 

General Latin American languages: 

Archive of Indigenous languages: 

Social context in Mexico (video in Spanish):

Curriculum- interview with Javier Sanchez (in Spanish):

One language’s efforts through a rock band:


Brisson (2009). Quechua Education in Peru: The theory-context mergence approach (pp. 3-46).


Bugel, T., & Scutti Santos, H. (2010). Attitudes and representations of Spanish and the spread of the language industries in Brazil. Language Policy, 9(2), 143-170.


del Valle, J. 2007. Chapter 12: Embracing diversity for the sake of unity: Linguistic hegemony and the pursuit of total Spanish. In A. Duchêne & M. Heller, (Eds.), Discourses of endangerment, 242-267. London and NY: Continuum.


García, O. (2001). Latin America. In J. A. Fishman (Ed), Handbook of language and ethnic identity (pp.  226-243).

Hamel, R. A. (2003). Regional blocs as a barrier against English hegemony? The  language policy of Mercosur in South America. In J. Maurais & M. A. Morris (Eds), Languages in a globalising world (pp. 111-142).


Hornberger, N. H., & Johnson, D. C. (2007). Slicing the onion ethnographically: Layers and spaces in multilingual language education policy and practice. TESOL Quarterly, 41(3), 509-532.


Hornberger, N. (2000). Bilingual Education Policy and Practice in the Andes: Ideological Paradox and Intercultural Possibility. Anthropology & Education Quartlerly, 31 (2), 173-201.


Hornberger, N. (1996). Indigenous Literacies in the Americas: Language Planning from the Bottom Up. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Jacobson-Pérez, S. (2009). The contribution of postcolonial theory to intercultural bilingual education in Peru: An indigeneous teacher training program. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas, R. Phillipson, A. K. Mohanty, & M. Panda (Eds.), Social Justice through Multilingual Education (pp.201-219). 


La Belle, T. J., & White, P. S. (1978). Education and colonial language policies in Latin America and the Caribbean. International Review of

Education, 24(3), 243-261.


Lopez, L.E. & Sichra, I. (2008). Intercultural bilingual education among indigenous peoples in Latin America.


Lopez, L. E. (2006). Cultural diversity, multilingualism and indigenous Education in Latin America. In O. García, T. Skutnabb-Kangas & M.E. Torres-Guzmán (2006). Imagining multilingual schools. Languages in Education and glocalization (pp.  238-261).


Menard-Warwick, J. (2008). The Dad in the Che Guevara T-Shirt: narratives of Chilean English Teachers. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 5(4), 243-264.


Ogulnick, K. (2006). Popular education and language rights in indigenous Mayan communities: emergence of new social actors and gendered voices. In O. García, T. Skutnabb-Kangas & M.E. Torres-Guzmán (2006). Imagining multilingual schools. Languages in Education and glocalization (pp.  150-170).


Pastor, M., and C. Wise. (1997). State Policy, Distribution and Neoliberal Reform in Mexico. Journal of Latin American Studies 29: 419-456.


Torres, C. A., & Schugurensky, D. (2002). The political economy of higher education in the era of neoliberal globalization: Latin America in comparative perspective. Higher Education, 43(4), 429-455.


Usma Wilches, J.A. (2009). Language policy in Colombia. Profiles, 11, 123-141.



Yusuf, S. (2011). The Importance of the Foreign Language Learning Contributing to World Peace. US-China Education Review, 8 (5), 580-588.



This web page has a copyright. It may be referred to and quoted, or reproduced and distributed for educational purposes according to fair use legislation only if the following citation is included in the document:


This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as


Harrison, K.  M., & Tochon, F. V. (2013). Americas —Central, Indigenous, and South. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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