Languages are a tricky
business. Although English is the dominant language for a majority of people living in the U.S., you would be
hard-pressed not to be able to name at least five other languages spoken
by a significant number of people across the country.
Growing up in Philadelphia, I
heard Spanish and Korean more often than English in my
neighborhood. While living in Seattle, Chinese and Japanese were a normal part
of my day working downtown. Now that I am in Washington, D.C., home to embassies from all over the world and large communities of Latin Americans and Ethiopian immigrants, I hear at least five different languages just on the walk to school. I love this mixture of cultures and languages. I
crave them. And yet, I feel so disconnected, since I can only speak one
Sadly, the U.S. education
system has not fully embraced that we are a multilingual society. Even American
Sign Language is not universally taught. My kids are being left behind when their counterparts in Europe
and Asia are speaking at least two, if not four or five languages, by the time
they graduate high school. We weren't able to lottery into the only public bilingual
elementary school in our area, and we aren't able to afford a bilingual private
school. My high school Spanish skills can only get me so far when it comes to
teaching my boys, so I had to find alternatives.
Thankfully, the PTA at
our school is very active and is helping parents through the language hurtle. I
recently received a note home that after-school classes in Spanish, German and
French would be offered one day a week. I jumped at this chance. It would cost
me $200 for the semester, but that was better than a private tutor and other
private after-school classes. What my son learns in class I could help to
reinforce at home. This may even prompt me to start up my own language
learning again. Those Rosetta Stone discs I bought six years ago have been
collecting dust long enough.
We need to be able to speak many languages in order to, among other advantages, converse with those we meet at home and when we travel.
Even though they probably
won't speak five languages, if I can give my boys a leg up in some way in our
language-deprived education system, so they can speak to their peers when we
travel and also have a head start on language learning before high school, I
will give it to them.
I will always take advantage of the after-school classes
that are within my budget and fun for my son, since his friends from school are
there with him. Peer pressure in Kindergarten may just encourage him to speak
to his native Spanish-speaking classmates. It may also give me the courage to
practice with their mothers, which let's just admit right now, is pretty scary. We adults don't like to look like idiots, but inevitably we will.
goal, though, is what is important. We need to be able to speak many languages in
order to, among other advantages, converse with those we meet at home and when we travel. Hopefully, my
son will thank me one day for making him stay late at school one day a week.