Saturday, February 02, 2008

Who Taught You That?

Every parent wants their kids to be polyglots. Sure, my kid speaks English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Arabic. I know because I've spent thousands on classes and DVDs and computer programs. An article in today's Times, though, suggests I may have been throwing my money away. Perhaps demanding Oreos in five languages is not quite the triumph I'd thought.

If you think about it, it's not that surprising at all:
The most effective way for children to learn another language is through a parent or caregiver, in an immersion school or even living abroad, say linguists, language teachers and bilingual parents.

All of us know that, don't we? How many of us spent three or four years studying Spanish in high school only to remember ¿Cómo estás? And most of us probably don't even remember what it means. But the kid whose mother spoke Spanish to him spoke better than the teacher. Who even knew whether the teacher spoke Spanish or not?

And if you think about it, how did we learn English? It wasn't in English class, after all. It was talking to our parents, talking to our friends, and watching Bugs Bunny (Maybe kids today seem more polite because they watch the Teletubbies, who barely speak at all).

But what can you do if you only speak one language and can't afford to hire an illegal immigrant as a caretaker for your kid? Well, your best bet is to get your kid into a dual-language program at school. They have them in several districts in Nassau, and there are a few scattered through the city. It's not quite as good as having a caretaker who speaks the language, but if your kids are around other kids speaking the target language, they'll warm to it more than a computer program.

It's remarkable that so many locales still cling to withholding foreign language instruction until high school, as puberty usually comes with a distinct plunge in the ability to acquire language. But while the national mania for standardized testing makes it less likely we'll address this on a large scale, parents can still stand up and demand it.

After all, if public school parents can beat Mike Bloomberg, they can accomplish pretty much anything.
blog comments powered by Disqus