Knowledge is power, but being bilingual doesn’t hurt either.
I just recently spent a week in the Dominican Republic on my honeymoon. It was an absolutely amazing place with the bluest ocean I have ever seen. I can’t believe that is the same ocean that I will be visiting on Labor Day weekend at Myrtle Beach. It was a great week. However, since I have been back in the States and I have been thinking about time down there, I started to think about all of the people who spoke more than one language.
I speak a little Spanish, pero solamente un poquito. Am I bilingual? Absolutley not, and neither is my wife especially since she took Latin in high school. However, in the DR you would be hard pressed to find someone who did not speak at least Spanish and English. The Dominicans bounced back and forth between the 2 languages with such ease that I almost thought I could understand Spanish fluently at times.
But what was even more amazing was how many people spoke more than 2 languages. We met multiple employees of the resort that spoke English and Spanish (being bilingual seemed to be a requirement), but also spoke French, Portuguese, German, Russian, and the list goes on. And do not get me started all of the other non-Americans and non-Dominicans who usually spoke Spanish, English, and their native language. To make a long story short, my wife and I felt like the “stupid Americans” from the beginning even with our 3 degrees in education, AP/Ed Spanish Credit (fluency level) accreditation, and backgrounds in ESL education.
Those schools or educational systems are doing something right. Their talent constantly mesmerized me so I often asked many of them about their ability. Everyone I spoke with seemed to really value language as a whole. Learning a second language was not necessarily only a school thing. Instead, learning a second language was a part of their culture. They valued language just as we value money.
All of this got me thinking about languages in our school system. Most educational systems (I know mine does) preach the importance of learning a second language to all of their students, but what are we doing to make sure that happens. I know of a few immersion schools where students graduate the 5th grade with the same credentials as any other public school but they are also fluent in Spanish when they move onto 6th grade.
In today’s world, where global exploration and international education are literally at our fingertips, shouldn’t we be more concerned with teaching our students to speak a second language? Shouldn’t we be instilling the value of language into our students? Which is more impressive and more culturally enriching? American students skyping into a Chinese classroom for math and speaking English OR Chinese students skyping into an American classroom for English and contributing to a paedeia seminar on the Scarlett Letter. Many language specialists say that many young Americans never even reach their full intellectual potential because we, as educators, never tap into that particular part of their brain. To me, learning a second language is just as important as anything covered in our curriculum. Just think about it…