Opening the Door to Language

Lately I have been thinking a lot of the benefits of speaking more than one language. Personally speaking, I think it would be incredible to be fluent in American Sign Language, but learning another language at the age of twenty is a lot more challenging than learning a language in the early childhood years.

Languages support and enrich culture and what better way to delve into these cultures than to be fluent and able to converse in another language?

Interestingly, in the “child language acquisition” linguistics course that I took last semester we spent the last few weeks of the semester studying second language acquisition. I learned that while there are numerous benefits of being bilingual, there are still many who question the impact this has on a child’s native language. Along with knowing two languages, bilingual children are better at problem solving, critical thinking, have an enhanced memory, a more flexible brain, just to name a few of the advantages of knowing more than one language. On the contrary, there are no proven negative impacts on a child’s first language if that child is introduced to a second language at birth or within their first few years. With this being said, it is much easier to learn a language from an early age where the brain is very active and flexible, opposed to twenty years into life when the vast majority of one’s linguistic and language input has primarily been English. The demonstrates how incredible the brains of children are as they are readily able to absorb and regularize language input and grammar.

bilingual-2

Today, there are multiple dual language programs surrounding Chapel Hill, including Spanish/English dual-language programs at Frank Porter Graham Elementary and Carrboro Elementary. These programs require applications and have been based on a lottery system as there is a much larger number of applicants than the school can support. With the opportunity to be immersed in Spanish for part of the school day, the goal is that children attending these programs will begin grasping their second language in their early years, preparing them to grow up with a foundation in both Spanish and English. I am amazed by the curriculum of these programs and cannot wait to see how students who graduate from these schools use their language skills to better the surrounding communities in their future endeavors.

Unfortunately, this opportunity is not available for all students and in the past there has been confusion stemming from the lack of knowledge that parents maintain about bilingualism. My professor for the course that I described above studies language acquisition extensively and focuses specifically on second language acquisition, noting that she has heard some parents get upset because there is a large Spanish-speaking population in their child’s school. She addressed this concern to our class simply and rather blatantly with the response that, “What is going to happen? Their child isn’t going to forget English, and at the VERY worst, they might pick up a little Spanish. Which would be great!”

What a wonderful opportunity that learning a second language presents for participating in the global community and immersing yourself in another culture. This opens a whole new door of opportunities, whether this is a spoken language or a programing language, like coding (see linked article about the growth of the coding language and how this can benefit children’s learning). With the growth of dual language schools in the United States, I am excited for the array of opportunities that this will present to students across the nation!

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2 Responses to Opening the Door to Language

  1. liznels says:

    Madison,
    This is a fascinating post about the benefits of learning a second language at a young age. You bring up a good point that there seem to be no negative effects of learning another language. By any chance do you know if the number of bilingual programs are growing? Also, are quality bilingual programs available to all socioeconomic categories or does there seem to be a population that is more able to access them?
    Thanks,
    Elizabeth

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  2. madisongoers1 says:

    Those are great questions, Elizabeth. Though my research on the specific number of program is not extensive, from everything that I read, these programs are growing as people are understanding the opportunities related to knowing more than one language and the importance of learning a second language early on. Interestingly, I saw quite a few recent articles about English/Mandarin dual-language schools, which could be extremely valuable with business, global communication, and foreign affairs. In terms of the dual-language schools in Chapel Hill, these are public and appear to be open to the entire county providing you apply and you “win” a spot through the lottery-based system. We do have to consider that we are thinking about Chapel Hill as there is an abundance of resources in the Triangle area, unlike many other areas in the country. I know my county (Cabarrus County) doesn’t yet have any established public dual-language programs similar to these Frank Porter Graham and Carborro Elementary, but that’s not to say it won’t ever happen. I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of considering socio-economics because as with a lot of things in education, there is access to programs that teach language starting in early grades present in many private schools (which can be costly). I would love to see more public schools modeling these dual-language programs in the future and personally would love to learn more about the additional costs that these programs present in terms of budgeting and funding!

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