I marvel at how effortlessly young language learners seem to pick-up two or three or even four subsequent languages. I cannot help but wonder if they ever mix their languages or if they neatly compartmentalize each language and the rules of these languages into their brains. How do they know when and with whom to use each language? When do they officially become fluent in their first and subsequent languages? How nice it must be for these little ones to acquire and speak languages without the insecurities that adults may have as language learners. These children are a phenomenon and have that multilingual edge.
Bilingual education has come a long way, especially in recent years as public, immersion schools, foreign language and immersion language enrichment programs are on the rise. The English language is important, but is simply not enough to compete in our interconnected, global society.
Parents, even those who are monolingual, are raising their children to be polyglots – speakers of multiple languages, because they understand the benefits of raising children with two or more languages.
Polylingualism will foster a deep appreciation for culture along with broader perspectives, an open-minded mentality with a worldly view. The bilingual person is able to create their own identity based off of their knowledge and usage of language. The bilingual brain is able out-perform its monolingual counterpart in cognitive abilities. The polyglot tends to be more expressive because they are able to pull from their vast lexical mental rolodex in order to convey their ideas and feelings; this, in turn, enhances their communication skills. The bilingual is also able to communicate with others outside of their domestic scope of influence.
The fact is, The United States, does not actually have an official language, but rather a ‘lingua franca’ – “a medium of communication between peoples of different languages”. Our domestic language structure is ever-changing because we are a melting pot of people, cultures and language. We must be willing to accept this and allow these changes to inspire cultural, linguistic and intellectual growth.
Forward-thinking parents understand that the benefits of bilingualism far outweigh the temporary obstacles – as these are inevitable and par for the course in language learning and bilingual education. Yes, there may be some confusion, at times. Yes, there will be silent periods. Yes, code-switching will occur. Yes, your child may exhibit language preference. Yes, this is a monetary as well as emotional investment. However, when your child is thinking and communicating, unprompted, using the language of their choice (because bilinguals have a choice), it will all be worth it!
Never, have I heard an adult express dissatisfaction with their parents for teaching their children a second language. To the contrary, we hear the frustration in monolingual adults whose parents had the opportunity to provide foreign language exposure or even spoke a different language in the home but, withheld or failed to reinforce the language learning with their child(ren).
Simply put, bilingual is better! We need to foster curiosity and enthusiasm in linguistics. We need to give language learning programs and curricula great consideration and attention as we should be raising our children to be responsible, contributing, prospective-thinking, globally aware, multilingual citizens of our nation.
Courtney Bailey is Director of Foreign Language Programs at The Language Buzz. For more information, please visit our website at www.thelanguagebuzz.com or visit our center at 1921 Henderson Street, Columbia, SC 29201.