The language debate

Bilingualism could benefit everyone.
September 12, 2012

Our language, as linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf asserted, shapes our thought patterns. This is a foremost reason why it should be mandatory for children in America to begin a second language at a young age. In addition to a furthered understanding of cultural thought, the education of a second language to young children improves cognitive behavior and instills in them an advantage to global communication and economy.

A growing issue in America is the growth of foreign languages spoken by those who have migrated to the U.S. Indeed, the concern is well-known in both social and political spheres, as a heightened level of tension has manifested itself in regions of the U.S. that are heavily populated with “non-native” speakers. One could argue that our internet-dependent generation has already taken up the dispute, which can be seen through controversial groups on sites such as Facebook. One of these groups, “This is America. Speak English,” has more than 20,000 members. Others believe their level of opportunity in the job market will be lowered because they do not speak a prevalent foreign language. Devout patriots of America have expressed the desire for a monolinguistic nation in a “native” tongue. Their arguments, however, have little support.

The concept of our nation speaking in a native tongue is a moot one. It would literately mean that, right now, I might be typing in a dialect of Ojibwe, a vernacular that is regional to central Minnesota. Languages and dialects would vary greatly from state to state. One could argue further that if we were to base a language on settlers in early America, it may have three different languages due to the English, French and Spanish that molded the lingual clay of our nation. In any case, there is little sustenance for the allegation of an English-only country.

The 21st century has focused intensely on the recognition and development of the human mind. Psychologists have studied the different functions of the brain and have identified ways to strengthen acute awareness and cognitive thinking. One way to do this, report linguistic researchers at Cornell University, is to learn another language at a young age. In the face of distraction, those who have learned another language are able to pursue their cognitive goals faster and easier. Children who are schooled in another language are able to focus their attention to a particular subject despite outside provocations better than those who are not proficient in a second language. This is a huge advantage, especially in a world where instant entertainment is dominant among younger generations.

If one keeps in mind the rising importance of the global market, they might foresee a disadvantage for English-speaking countries. To combat this, public schools such as Cincinnati’s Academy of World Languages immerse their students in globally dominant languages like Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Russian.  Students are in kindergarten when they receive their language instruction. After nine years of total engagement in one of these languages, students will leave being more-than proficient in a prominent global-marketing language. This being shown, it is economically advantageous for Americans to be schooled in a second language; it will allow them to understand and maneuver their way around the global market.

Every country in the world has known its share of hatred, violence and death. Speculations into these instances show a lack of knowledge, nay, a lack of empathy among opposing sides. Ignorance begets disinterest, which can be said to be the most harmful action to those in need or those who are suffering. Surrounding a young child in a different language and culture will strengthen their mind at a young age.

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