Friday, August 27, 2010


Words. The root of human communications and interactions.

Language is, of course, an essential part of our lives. We need it to tell others what we want, what we need, what we feel. We rely on language to build our societies, to teach our children, to govern our countries.

Though many people in this country seem to think otherwise, there is no official language of the United States. Our forefathers built a nation of immigrants on the principles of freedom and equality. Not of rigidity and requirements.

Would it be simpler, easier, if everyone spoke the same language? Sure. Of course it would. I don't think anyone would argue that. But this country isn't exactly about simpler and easier. And who is to say that English should be that one language anyway? The majority?

Beware the tyranny of the majority. Just because most people think something should be, does not make it so. Our forefathers were certain to make sure of that.

Guess I've been spending a lot of time explaining our democracy to Aidan lately, huh?

We Americans are so very interesting. We think that everyone should bend to our needs, our wants, our imagined superiority. After all, we call ourselves Americans. I'm fairly certain there are two entire continents of people that can rightfully lay claim to that title.

In a great number of countries around the world, children are routinely educated in more than one language. They've figured out something that we haven't here. We live in a global economy, international travel is a given and no man (or country for that matter) is an island anymore. Yet, here, we don't teach kids another language routinely.

We expect everyone to learn English.

Don't get me wrong, the school that my kids attend has a Spanish teacher. But thus far, all my kids have learned are a few songs, numbers and simple phrases. That, a language does not make.

There are a handful of districts nationwide that have begun immersion programs, and not just for bilingual education anymore. Full, school wide instruction in multiple languages. Forcing all the students, English speakers and not, to learn together. Some start at Kindergarten. Which, truly if you think about it, makes all the sense in the world. The younger kids are, the more they resemble sponges. They absorb and learn so much faster and easier the younger they are.

Though I did not grow up speaking anything other than English, there was a short period of time in my life that I spoke another language fluently. I started taking Spanish in high school, continuing through in college. I struggled with the conjugation of verbs, always able to understand and read far better than I could speak or write. I learned the vocabulary, but I didn't really learn the language.

Then I started volunteering at the county hospital. I was forced into an environment where Spanish was far more common than English. People needed me to be able to communicate with them. They needed me to help them. Baptism by fire. I learned.

I became fluent quickly. They say that the hallmark of fluency is when you begin to dream in another language, and I did. My dreams became suenos.

It was empowering. And as quickly as it came, it was gone. Once I wasn't in that place anymore, forced to speak another language, I started to lose it. One day, it was gone.

I am back to a book taught Spanish language learner. I can understand most things, read well, but I can't speak or write hardly at all. And it's a shame.

I wish that I had more opportunities to speak Spanish again, that I thought I could master the language again. I'm older now, and it only gets harder as you age.

Someday I hope that my children will immerse themselves in another language. That they will learn to communicate with someone who doesn't speak English. That they will rest their heads at night with other words circling through their dreams.

Suenos dulces, mis hijos y hijas.

1 comment:

  1. I wish my kids could speak Korean. But I do use phrases and words w/ them all the time. Charlotte will respond w/out thinking when I use the "where are you going" in Korean. And she will tell her sister to sit down in Korean. She also knows her animals....but like you, I don't use it nearly often enough. If we were in L.A., they'd be going to Korean School on Saturdays. I wrote my writing test essay for college about the need for two languages in school from the start.


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