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Speaking in Tongues

America, I believe is the greatest country in the world. I believe Americans are some of the most caring people on the planet, a people that will stand up for the oppressed and offer a generous helping hand to those in need. I also think that the majority Americans are deficient in one particular way that can be summed up in the following joke that is both sad and true.

Q: What do call someone that speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual

Q: What do call someone that speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: What do call someone that speaks one language?
A: American

The vast majority of Americans (excluding immigrants) speak only English and American English at that. Sadly, most Americans don’t care to speak another language nor do they understand why anyone would want to speak another language. They also believe anyone living in the US should be required to understand and speak English despite there being no government sanctioned “official language” in the US. There are also Americans that believe, when visiting a foreign country, the locals should be able to speak to them in English. I hope these are few and far between but my gut feel is there are more of them than is comfortable for me to admit. When it comes to language, Americans have a very myopic way of thinking.

Learning another language is a good way to learn about other cultures as the spoken language tends to reflect that way in which one views the world, the way our voices represent the culture in which we live. I have heard of cultures without a concept for the number zero. I have heard tell of cultures that have no word for the concept of the phrase “I’m Sorry”. If someone steps on your foot, the act of them removing their foot is sufficient. If they truly wanted to hurt you they would keep standing on your foot.

Languages have different positions for the words in properly structured sentences such as the positions of the noun and adjective? In English, we say “the blue car” while in Spanish the phrase becomes “the car blue”. Does this juxtaposition affect the brain’s cognitive abilities in any significant way? Does being fluent in both affect our ability to ponder a subject from multiple angles?

Some studies have shown that there are benefits of learning multiple languages at an early age. Among them, being multilingual:

  • Has a positive effect on intellectual growth and enriches and enhances a child’s mental development
  • Leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening
  • Improves a child’s understanding of his/her native language
  • Gives a child the ability to communicate with people he would otherwise not have the chance to know
  • Opens the door to other cultures and helps a child understand and appreciate people from other countries
  • Gives a student a head start in language requirements for college
  • Increases job opportunities in many careers where knowing another language is a real asset.

Based on these points, it seems to me that we are cheating our children if we don’t help them to learn multiple languages starting from their youngest days. Is it any wonder, that America education is taking an overall backward step when compared to the education system in other parts of the world.

I have friends on delegation in Europe who have not delved deeply into the language of the country they are living. They are in a country where most people also speak English so they can get by speaking their own native tongue. Both can understand the countries language but are not completely fluent. I wonder how their lives would be different if they fully assimilated the native language of the country in which they are living?

As I have blogged, there is a slight possibility of me being delegated to India for a year. I don’t know if this will actually happen because there are way too many variables to know if a stint in India is where my future lies. However, if a delegation does occur, I plan on studying Hindi so I can more fully understand my hosts.

In the meantime, I think I will continue improving on my marginal Spanish. It would be nice to know what the players are saying about me when I referee soccer games composed of Spanish speaking teams. I know when they are calling me ‘bad’ names. It would be nice to know if I also get the occasional compliment.


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