Is it really worth it,
going the bilingual route,
in today’s day and age?
In much of the world, children now learn one or two foreign languages in school. In non-English speaking countries, English is by far the most common foreign language taught. As a result, most children speak English pretty well by the time they leave school. So, in this context, is it still worth making an additional effort to go the bilingual or trilingual route?
I think the answer is a resounding yes.
I work in a global team within a very international company, and so interact in my day to day with people from multiple countries. Most of them speak English very competently, and get along just fine in a professional setting. But, when you encounter someone who is truly bilingual, it shows. These are the people who are free to do their best work, because they are not constantly translating between one language and another in their minds. We could think of this as one of those practical advantages that come from being bilingual.
If you talk to a man in
a language he understands,
that goes to his head. If
you talk to him in his language,
that goes to his heart.”
— Nelson Mandela
But there are also less tangible (though not less important, in my mind), advantages: bilingual people are often able to empathize, or connect with others, in ways monolingual people have trouble doing. This is because you cannot really become bilingual without exposure to another culture, and that exposure allows you to see the world in new and different ways.
These are the cultural or emotional advantages of growing up bilingual, which I think are only going to grow in importance over the coming generations.
Here in Spain my corner Starbucks has already brought out the Christmas tree and Christmas cups (very cool-looking this year, incidentally), but they forget there is still one important holiday to think about before Christmas, for those families with links to the Anglosaxon world: Thanksgiving, or Día de Acción de Gracias.
It’s not about making our children experts on Thanksgiving, or dressing them up as seventeenth century pilgrims, but this holiday, in my opinion, offers a multitude of opportunities for celebrating with children, and for bringing English into their life. Some history, a bit of geography, a lot of adventure, and a good narrative about friendship and the power of sharing.
American and Canadian au pairs, also, will be happy that their host family is choosing to celebrate something so personal (and probably dear to them) as Thanksgiving.
Since there are tons of possible activities, I’m calling out in this small guide (below in English and Spanish), those that have been most successful for us, aiming for variety, and keeping in mind that we’re not all big fans of pumpkin cake.
The best thing is, these ideas are quick to put into practice, so you can use them for November 23rd, just a couple weeks away!
Ingredients for a terrifying Halloween party:
Bats straws and lollipop spiders, inspired by Pinterest
Scary chocolate cupcakes (thanks, Erin Bakes, http://erinbakes.com/chocolate-eyeball-cupcake-tutorial/, it’s been some time since we had so much fun in the kitchen!)
Door decoration to make sure nobody walked into the neighbor’s place by mistake
The most important thing, 15 children in costumes, ready to have some fun.
Seeing so many children together reminded me, once again, of the importance of introducing the minority language into everyday life.
Although Halloween is a foreign word, our context here in Spain is what it is, and most things are translated into Spanish automatically (even trick of treat, a phrase that defies logical translation)
In this case, children in the party all had (to a greater or lesser degree), exposure to two languages, so it was interesting to see their reaction when somebody (mainly our au pair and the native parents) spoke to them in the minority language:
- Some looked bored, their expression one of “but I’m not in school now,,,”, before going on their way,
- Others made it clear they understood, but answered in Spanish (my eldest was firmly in this group),
- Others (the smallest number), answered their interlocutor in his or her language, able to change instantly between one and the other language.
It wasn’t the objective of the party but seeing so many children together was a good chance to see where they are in the development of the second language, and served as a reminder that each child has his/her own rhythm.