>Obama ignited a few fires when he recommended teaching American students a second language. I have one question for the doubters.
What’s the problem?!!?
Many Americans grow up with the Ugly American Entitlement attitude. Contrary to some popular belief, we’re not always popular. The “Speak English and do it now!” attitude contributes to this problem.
I’ve taught many children who spoke another language before they spoke English. Some spoke Hmong, some Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, and more. In addition to my native Midwestern dialect of American English, I speak a fair amount of Spanish.
The best advantage to an elementary teacher like me isn’t the Spanish vocabulary, although that’s extremely helpful. The real advantage comes from experiences in learning and respecting cultures that differ from my own.
I don’t speak Hmong, but I’ve learned a great deal about the Hmong people, their history, and their culture. I’ve also met several families who came from Brazil to live here in the U.S. My Spanish is no match for their Brazilian Portuguese, but rather reminds me how challenging it is to read and learn in a new language. I learned to enjoy the student who grew up speaking English, encouraged by his bilingual mother (Arabic and English). Then there was the family from Somalia by way of Egypt; the children were very well educated in their native Arabic. Learning English set them back, frustrating the intelligent and capable children for a while.
Regular readers of Compost Happens know that I am hearing impaired. I chose not to learn ASL, American sign language, because I live and work in a hearing world. Instead, I wear two powerful hearing aids and I’m learning to read lips. Like another language, these are tools that help me communicate.
A teaching colleague told me about her husband’s job which includes frequent travel to China. No one, not one employee at the manufacturer, speaks Chinese. He began learning the language as a professional courtesy. If his local school district started a language program in Chinese, the career possibilities for their graduates would increase exponentially. Not only would they be well equipped to work for the local enginemaker, but they’d have an understanding of another culture that is very different from their own.
And that, my friends, is priceless.