World Languages for our Multicultural World
First Global Challenge, an international competition, brought teen-agers from over 150 countries around the world to Washington, D.C. this summer. Students collaborated across countries and borders to build robots which would reduce water contamination. A keynote speaker observed that in the future there would be many opportunities for budding scientists from around the world to work together for peaceful purposes.
This is the world that we need to prepare our children for. Regardless of their career choices or where they may live, it is more probable than ever that they will be communicating and working with people from diverse language and cultural backgrounds.
How do we best prepare our children for success in the multilingual, multicultural 21st century?
Let’s give them an early start learning a foreign language. One can learn a language at any age, but children who start early have more years to become truly proficient and to have a marketable skill.
What are the benefits of knowing a second language?
Direct access to millions of people; better cognitive thinking ability; improved verbal skills; better mastery of our native language; more appreciation for other cultures and for our own culture; greater chances for employment. We want these benefits for our children.
Research shows that children enrolled in foreign language classes develop a greater tolerance for cultural diversity than monolinguals. How is that possible?
There are different reasons. Learners of a second language come to realize that there is more than one way to name an object, or express an idea, and that the ways are equally good.
When they study another language, they experience the effort needed to be able to express themselves and to understand others. This develops their empathy for English language learners.
As they learn the language, they learn about the culture of the people who speak the language. The culture is presented in a positive way, and this helps to prevent or change stereotypes and prejudices.
In my district, children can study Spanish or Mandarin in elementary school. In the Spanish classes, for example, they learn about the season and weather changes, what schools are like in different countries, how birthdays are celebrated, what the leisure activities are, and what is the role of the extended family in Spanish-speaking countries.
The familiarity that children gain from these cultural experiences will allow them to find common ground with native speakers so that they can form bonds of friendship.
In a great show of bipartisan agreement, three U.S. presidents were recently reported to have bragged about their grandchildren’s ability to speak another language: Presidents W Bush, Clinton and Trump. All grandparents should have these bragging rights!
A common misconception in our country is that the “whole world speaks English:” According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 75% of the world neither speaks nor understands English.
Unlike most of the rest of the world, most students in the U.S. don’t begin to learn a language until middle or high school, if at all. Only about 25% of elementary schools offer FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary school) programs.
Fewer than 10% of Americans speak a second language. Barely 1/5 of k-12 students study a second language, with the average starting at age 15. That leaves them with very little time to become proficient in a language.
Please make sure that your child has the early language advantage enjoyed by their peers around the world. Request a FLES program for your school. Find alternatives for your child if necessary, and learn or review the language yourself. Enjoy!
About the Author
Judy has taught languages on Long Island and is an active member of the Public Advocacy Committee of the New York State Association of Foreign Langu
age Teachers. She lives on Long Island with her husband. Has two daughters and a granddaughter. Her missions is have let every child to have the opportunity to learn a world language at an early age; and she wants parents, everyone to have fun with a language and appreciate the beauty of the cultures of our world. Judy is the author of ¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish and her newest book, Bonjour! Let’s Learn French will be published in October
“Language study promotes tolerance for diversity.”
¡HOLA! Let’s Learn Spanish
NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner Winter 2017
Honorable Mention Educational Purple Dragonfly Book Award 2017
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Lead with languages