Over the last month Arya has really excelled in her ability to express herself. She is “fake reading” books using her own made-up storyline, she can clearly articulate concerns and preferences using full sentences, and embarrassingly enough she remembers the lyrics to almost any song she hears on the radio – even if it is only her first time hearing it. (Darn that Drake!) Clearly her brilliant little brain is clicking away faster everyday, especially when it comes to language development.
Based on my own language background, exposing my children to multiple languages from an early age would be a given. Yet, despite my attempts speak with Arya in Spanish, Italian and French at home I find that as she progresses with her own English language development I simply forget to do it! Even though her first few words included “leche” and “agua” she now looks at me with that quizzical little look when I throw in a sentence or two in another language – like “Oh, funny Mommy with those funny words.” I know I have to find a better way to integrate this into her daily life if I really want her to be proficient in another language.
I come from a bilingual household and have experienced dual language learning in various stages of my education. Thus, I have always been an advocate for this type of exposure and can personally attest to the benefits. As I look at the issue with my new-parent goggles on, it is disconcerting for me to see the lack of regard shown for bilingual education across the nation; not to mention the shambles that have been left of it in our local school district here in Los Angeles. When I think about the educational systems in Europe, Asia and even Latin America, which have mandatory requirements for proficiency in multiple languages, I cringe to think that our children in the US are not being equipped to face the world with the same tools.
While I won’t allow this to be the reality for my kids, not everyone knows a second language or can afford private language education for their children. Thus, they must rely on the public school system or community programs to provide some options. However, there are still too many parents that are uninformed about the benefits, making bilingualism a non-priority and furthering ethnocentric perspectives that create inter-cultural discord. This limits the opportunities to enrich our own lives and our communities. Ultimately, the monolingual culture that is prevalent across the US will put our children at a global disadvantage unless we raise awareness and demand better options for multilingual and multicultural exploration.
Years of research have shown the cognitive and overall life benefits of bilingualism. These include an increased ability to problem solve, to think creatively and be cognitively flexible, higher self-esteem, and enhanced socio-cultural sensitivity. In addition it opens many doors in terms of the variety of employment options available.
I was excited to read a recently published article in Education Week regarding the advancements being made around neurological research tied to bilingual education. Using new techniques and technologies in neuroscience, researchers are finding that some of the long-held beliefs about learning another language are proving to be untrue. For instance, it was believed that the window for learning a new language shrinks rapidly after age 7, and closes almost entirely after puberty. Interdisciplinary research now suggests that the time frame may be more flexible than first thought and students who learn additional languages become more adaptable in other types of learning as well.
Further, in brain mapping studies conducted with infants born to native-English-speaking parents, researchers found that those who were presented with live interactive exposure to another language via a language tutor, progressed more rapidly in recognizing dual language sounds. This live interaction was notably more effective than simply exposing the babies to video or audio recordings. Patricia K. Kuhl, a co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, has been intimately involved in this research and states that “Babies start out as citizens of the world; they can discriminate the sounds of any language.” If you look at language acquisition at the basic level it makes total sense. I would add that as parents, we just have to expose them. So why wouldn’t we give them this gift of multilingualism as early as possible then and sustain it for a lifetime? Just think about how much richer our worlds would be.
For the full article on multilingualism visit Edweek.org:
Science Grows on Acquiring New Language
October 22, 2010 by Sarah D. Sparks
An emerging body of research dispels old myths about language learning and makes a case for multilingualism.