Bilingualism... what is it?
To be bilingual. To speak two languages proficiently. To relate to two cultures surrounding a language and heritage. Is it advantageous? Most would answer “yes.” Is there an advantage to having the ability to watch a film in a foreign language without needing to read subtitles, and be able to fully appreciate the cinematographic elements of a foreign language film? What about the ability to read a Dostoyevsky novel in Russian? Or Don Quixote or One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish, as Cervantes or García Márquez wrote such masterpieces? I would answer yes. Multiculturalism is our current world, and to know cultures, one must also be familiar with languages, which is why there is such an interest in foreign language educational resources in this community, and among its partners, like EDSITEment, now featuring resources in Spanish through spotlights, lesson plans and a new Best-of-the-Web Spanish resources.
And, we do not stand alone. An article featured by the Washington Post, http://wapo.st/jO8kdm , Bilingualism's Brain Benefits, expressed that according to research, “bilingual speakers are better able to deal with distractions than those who speak only a single language, and that may help offset age-related declines in mental performance.” This can be seen as an enormous benefit, especially for older adults. But, what about children?
According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association website, http://bit.ly/aGoNX7 , researchers have highlighted the advantages of being bilingual from an early age, including the ability to: “learn new words easily; break down words by sounds; use information in new ways; put words into categories; develop good listening skills,” amond others.
Bilingualism and multilingualism: Beneficial? Advantageous? I would say “yes.” What do you think? Perhaps the best way to implement it is by starting at an early age through the study of various disciplines in foreign languages.
Owner: Recursos para docentes del castellano, a bilingual corner!
Back to the original questions, Bilingualism, what is it? and How can we implement it?
When I lived in Germany, I truly tried to immerse myself in the culture and language around me. I tried language courses. I tried records and tapes. Shhh, I even tried learning the language by watching the german TV show, Sesame Street. (Did you know that the german version of Big Bird didn't have feathers? He was dressed in net, but I digress), My point was that I always had to translate in my mind.
At the same time, I put my son in a german kindergarten. The teachers taught every subject in german. My son, a regular sponge for information, learned the language and exhibited none of my personal frustration as he compartimentalizing his languages. At school he thought and spoke in german (no translating). At home he thought and spoke in English. When do we lose that ability?
I was so impressed. Why don't we start second languages with our children earlier than high school (or even middle school) courses? Lucky is the child who has a parent or grandparent at home who speaks a second language.
Personally, I wish I could speak Swedish and Spanish as well as English since my two daughters chose to marry husbands from other countries--Sweden and Venezuela. I'm sure my grandchildren will be bilingual. However, unless they speak English, I will not be able to comprehend what they are saying.
Traveling in Sweden and socializing with my daughter's family is difficult without knowing Swedish. Even though many Swedes speak English, they prefer their native language. Likewise, it's also hard to converse with the other daughter's Venezuelan family since many of them speak only Spanish.
Certainly, in Europe students are encouraged to learn their native language and English. I strongly agree that all children need to learn a second language starting at a young age. It's more difficult to become fluent in a second language as an adult.
With the world becoming smaller through technology and travel, I imagine students in the future will be encouraged or required to learn at least 2 other languages in addition to their native language.