The human mind seems so incredible to me. When we are infants, people talk to us, and by the time we are six months old, we understand most of what they say. If one parent speaks German, the other Portuguese, and grandma speaks English, our brains take in all three languages without a problem, categorize them and mostly keep them distinct. We are wired to accept and learn multiple languages if our environment requires it. Communication is a keystone of our species.
Why then, in the United States, do we limit ourselves to English?
In the US people think languages are “hard” to learn. We study world languages too late in life and it’s far more difficult. I started to learn Spanish at age 13. For five years my accent was terrible. Memorizing vocabulary and grammar was time consuming. Still, I persisted… Spain and Latin American travel, great friendships and new perspectives made it worth the work.
We must start at birth or in preschool to learn a second language the most easily. That is when our minds are the most open to language acquisition. Compare my experience to that of my child, with whom I spoke Spanish since birth. Memorization needed to learn a second language, zero. “Agua” has always been water, in addition to the English word for it. Changing a verb to reflect past or present tense is automatic. That start and a dual language immersion school, and we have a bilingual, bi-literate child.
Here in the United States, I believe there is room between our ears for English and additional world languages. True, unless we live on the border, we don’t have much exposure to the Spanish or French of our neighbor countries. We may wonder, when will we ever use a language other than English? Well, the wide world is as close as the internet (or the airport ; ).
What I like about knowing Spanish is that I have more than one way to frame the world. Another language and culture(s) give me relativity. A new angle is eternally helpful, since the world is an intricate place. Speaking Spanish allows me to feel less dependent and more connected when I travel in twenty-one countries around the globe. I have enjoyed re-inventing myself and finding Spanish-speaking friends with whom I share the journey through life.
What if preschool or 4K were in Chinese, Spanish, or Hindi?
What’s your language story?