While learning two or even three languages at a young age is a given for many children in other parts of the world, most American children are never exposed to a second language, let alone a third. While the United States historically has opened its arms to immigrants and their unique cultures, in recent decades, attitudes have shifted to reflect a more nationalistic stance and close-minded view toward other cultures and their languages. Simultaneously, the English language has grown in prominence, and many Americans fail to see the importance of learning another language.
In fact, as recently as 2003, a Nebraska judge ordered a Hispanic father to speak English, rather than Spanish, to his 5-year-old daughter or face a loss of visitation rights. This case clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of bilingualism and ignorance regarding the fact that speaking two or more languages clearly enriches a child’s life. As writer Sally Thomason notes, “The child’s welfare will be unaffected, except of course that she will miss a valuable opportunity to exercise her mind and enhance her humanity by learning a second language.”
With regular, casual practice, a second language is not so hard to acquire—especially at a young age. Knowledge of a language other than our mother tongue exposes us to new information and provides a deeper understanding and awareness of different cultures. We also sharpen our cognitive abilities, as learning and speaking a foreign language engages our brain’s higher-level functions.
We’re doing our children a disservice by ignoring the importance of learning a second language and appreciating other cultures. Knowing another language opens our minds and creates opportunities for understanding. Thankfully, it’s never too late for the United States to start valuing and promoting the study of foreign languages.
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