Embracing more multilingualism in schools

With the new president-elect Donald Trump entering the White House this January, there have been a lot of concerns over the decisions he’s made at the start of his presidency. This has caused the media to miss reporting on wonderful events.

Something that was not reported on by the media at the beginning of this year was that a California law that forced school districts to teach only English, was lifted after a 20-year ban.

I believe that children should have the chance to learn different languages than the one they speak at home, especially in America, where freedom of expression applies to everyone.

The United States of America has never had an official language. If you Google ‘America’s official language’, you will find statements like, “The United States does not have a national official language, but English is the most commonly used.”

But just because English is the most commonly-used language doesn’t mean we should ban students from learning about foreign languages and cultures. There are many reasons why multilingualism should be encouraged nationwide in both schools and society.

The first reason has to do with our ancestry. Early on in American history, English was one of the least spoken languages. German was actually widely used throughout the colonies. In the early 20th Century, German was the most widely studied foreign language in the United States, and prior to World War I, more than six percent of American schoolchildren received their primary education exclusively in German and not English.

French and Spanish are also some of the most common languages used in America and are still spoken fluently in many states today.

French is spoken mainly by the Louisiana Creole, Native French, Cajun, Haitian, and French-Canadian populations and is widely spoken in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and in Louisiana, including some areas in St. Clair County, and many rural areas of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the northern San Francisco Bay area.

A study in 2012 found that roughly two million people speak French or a French-Creole language at home here in America. Spanish is taught as a second language, especially in areas with large Hispanic populations. A 2009 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau showed that Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 35 million people aged five years or older, making the United States the world’s fifth-largest Spanish-speaking community, outnumbered only by Mexico, Colombia, Spain, and Argentina. In Hispanic communities across the country, there are signs in both English and Spanish for bilingual purposes.

America was made up of immigrants to start with, so we should embrace the languages we have spoken for centuries. Researchers say knowing more than one language helps with brain development in young adults. A new study concluded that certain brain functions are enhanced in teens who are fluent in more than one language.

Statistically speaking, about one in five children nationwide speak a language other than English at home, so Dr. Nina Kraus took action. Kraus and her colleagues studied 48 first-year high school students, 23 of whom were proficient in both Spanish and English. The rest were proficient only in English.

Kraus’ research showed that children who grow up learning to speak two languages tend to learn English words and grammar more slowly than those who speak only English, but that bilingual children tend to be better than monolingual children at multitasking.

“Bilingualism serves as enrichment for the brain and has real consequences when it comes to executive function, specifically attention and working memory,” Dr. Nina Kraus said in her report.

Multilingualism is a great way to embrace one’s ancestry and culture and to enhance learning. America is the land of free people. We are free to speak in whatever language we want.

According to Nelson Mandela, “if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” Now that is something to think about.

Published in the February 8, 2017 issue of The Bells

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