Kids, Language & Brains


“English Only” Isn’t Wrong; It’s Simply Unfair to Children 2

Children depend on adults to take the long view.  When adults don't do this, children--the next generations-- pay the price. In the US that too often translates into monolingualism, as if that's an advantage. Around the world, that translates into the importance of many native languages being dismissed and with more and more languages being placed on the endangered list. For all of us, this translates into a form of cultural impoverishment because language is a complex cultural asset, carrying a world view varying richly from language to language. When a language disappears, its cultural content is usually lost too. Some cultures are fighting to maintain and reinvigorate their natives languages: Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland, Welsh in Wales, Breton in France, Hawaiian in our 50th state, and native American tribal languages, to name a few.  As long as there are fluent speakers of a language, it is still a living language. Keeping languages alive is a mission. In what he calls a bit of a push-back against globalization, linguist David Harrison of Swarthmore College is helping the 600 or so speakers of Papua New Guinea's Matukar Panau create a talking dictionary so the sound, syntax and structure of their language will not vanish completely.  Seven other unusual vanishing languages are also being recorded this way. That's hardly a dent in the half of the world's 7000 languages expected to disappear by the end of this century.  Digital communication tools such as YouTube videos, Facebook pages, ¡Phone apps, websites and specialized fonts are providing a kind of life support to many endangered languages. Being able to see the word and hear it is huge," according to linguist Norvin Richard at MIT.  Reviving a long dormant language becomes possible because of the technically robust digital compendiums that have replaced fragile wax recordings and magnetic tapes. Prof. Harrison, along with other scholars, points out that languages are irreplaceable records of experience and diversity of thought, the many intricacies of which can make you question your own perception of reality.  Robert Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18-19, 2012.


“English Only” Isn’t Wrong; It’s Simply Unfair to Children I

Children have a natural talent for languages. While this was supposedly explained by the claim that all language stems from a  single universal grammar we're born with, that view hasn't stood the test of time. Still, adults continue to be amazed by and and even envious of the uncanny ability of children to pick up other languages so easily.  So what's wrong with simply accepting the dominance of English in the world and letting English-only speaking kids slip by as monolinguals?  Research results tell us that bilingual brains are more resilient and resist going into decline with the natural process of aging.  That's a big factor that needs to be recognized and taken advantage of when children are still young enough to benefit from the readiness of their brains to take in, make sense of and use a language other than their mother tongue.  As they use and continue to use another language as part of their regular means of connecting with family and peers, that language or those languages become part of them and will stay with them.  Here at home our kids can benefit from the presence of many 1st and 2nd generation Spanish speakers for practicing and perfecting their 2nd language skills.   TV and radio provide more easy access to Spanish.  It's really an opportunity that shouldn't be wasted. It is said that even children growing up in non-English speaking families will hold on to their mother-tongue for only a generation or two.  After that, unless our culture begins to value bilingualism, it will be too easy to act as if getting along in English is enough.