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view from the top : Numerous trails of Mount Naomi lead through some of the most spectacular alpine scenery found in the intermountain west./ Photo by Melissa Kamis
Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

"The First Amendment gives everyone -- including nuts -- free speech,
but free speech has a purpose: that the people may judge for themselves
and bury the nuts with indignation. We fail our founding fathers if we
let blowhards rage on talk radio, in little magazines and in nasty
books without delivering counterattacks.

   -- Barron's, Aug. 9, 2004 (Thanks to alert WORDster John Mollwitz)

Learning another language opens our minds to peace and understanding

By Sarah Mulholland

March 1, 2004 | Parlez-vous français? Habla usted español? Sprechen sie Deutsch? If you can translate these expressions, then you are in the minority of Americans who can function in another language, according to the Marshall University Web site.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, only 17.6 percent of the U.S. population spoke a different language other than English.

In a country with diversity constantly increasing, it is becoming more and more important to know another language. This not only affects our personal lives, but our society as a whole.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government has noticed that in this nation we have a shortage of foreign language experts. When they issued an urgent appeal for citizens who could speak Arabic and Farsi to help with the intelligence gathering, only a few answered the call. We need people to know other languages for our national security.

Learning a new language helps us to have a competitive edge with job opportunities and career advancement. According to the Marshall University Web site, " ... by producing Americans who are fluent in other languages, our country can remain competitive and strong economically, politically, and globally." Other benefits include "a positive effect on intellectual growth, enhanced development, and appreciation for cultures. "

Isela Chiu, an associate professor of Spanish at Utah State University, grew up in Mexico and believes that learning a new language "enriches your life and views about people, the world, and cultures." She believes that it gives us more job opportunities and political and social benefits by having contact with the lives and views of others.

"It helps you understand and appreciate other people and other cultures," she said.

Karin Dejonge-Kannan, a lecturer in the MSLT (Masters of Second Language Teaching) program, also has seen many benefits in her life by knowing more than one language. Dejong-Kannan grew up in the Netherlands and is fluent in Dutch and English, knowing other languages too. She enjoys feeling like she understands the world and people around her. She has noticed that by learning a new language, we develop cognitive flexibility, which allows us to put ourselves in other's shoes and look from multiple angles at an issue or situation.

Dejonge-Kannan said that we develop higher level reasoning skills that allow us to think through consequences and realize that problems usually come from multiple root causes. We are able to think "outside the box," or in other words, our perspective is broadened and our minds are more opened. She encourages, "learn a new language, see a new perspective."

Learning a new language is good for people who we come in contact with, especially those struggling with a new language and/or culture because we are able to understand them. Dejonge-Kannan said we are all human with hopes and dreams and we need to connect.

"This is an element working toward world peace, having empathy for others," she said.

It doesn't matter what language we learn, according to the Oklahoma Foreign Language Teachers' Association, our views of the world will be broadened and we will receive benefits: "Knowledge of more than one language, regardless of what the language is, leads to academic, cognitive, and cultural benefits. Students who speak more than one language perform higher than their monolingual counterparts on tests of academic achievement, cognitive flexibility, and creativity."

Dejonge-Kannan has noticed an interesting increase in students studying uncommon languages like Japanese and Arabic. According to the Modern Language Association, more people are taking foreign language classes. A total of 1.4 million students enrolled in foreign language classes in fall 2003, a 17.9 percent jump since 1998 and the highest enrollment ever according to the Center for Applied Linguistics.

We don't have to wait to be in college to learn another language. Research shows that children are most receptive and more able to learn a language before the age of 10. "There seems to be a series of windows for developing language. The window for acquiring syntax may close as early as five or six years of age, while the window for adding new words may never close. The ability to learn a second language is highest between birth and the age of six, then undergoes a steady and inexorable decline," according to Creative Publications. Children learn with enthusiasm and aren't afraid to do many activities that adolescents or adults would be afraid of. It helps them get a jump into their future education, by aiding their mental development and helping them better understand their native language.

Dejonge-Kannan gave an example of two groups of students, one monolingual and one bilingual group. They were each given a rubber band and had to come up with a list of ways to use it. The bilingual group was able to come up with more possibilities because of their broader thinking skills, due to knowing another language.

Other languages open up our communication possibilities with other people around the world, especially while traveling. "Knowing a second language helps children to understand how diverse our world is; that not everyone is like them. Through education, they come to appreciate other languages and cultures. They gain a greater flexibility in thinking and problem solving as well," according to PBS Teacher Source.

Children can learn to appreciate other cultures and people of all races. Chiu said, " they will learn to accept people who are different," which is essential in a diverse society.

Many other countries begin teaching children at an early age. Thailand, for example, teaches English starting in the first grade. ( Even though many elementary schools in Cache Valley don't offer foreign language classes due to lack of time and money, Cedar Ridge Middle School does have a Spanish class for sixth graders. Jayann Chancellor, a counselor at the school, has noticed many Hispanic people moving into Cache Valley. She said that Spanish is a growing language and that by teaching it, "it creates kind of an awareness."

Chiu and Dejonge-Kannan have both found that the most affective way of teaching is communicative-based, by applying and constantly practicing the things learned, instead of grammar-based, focusing more on the rules and lists in a textbook.

As parents we can even teach our own children the languages that we already know. We can speak with them in both languages like Dejong-Kannan has done with her two children who have learned Dutch and English. The best way to help our children is by getting involved in their school work and learning activities. As we become involved we will be able to understand them and help them better. Ideas of how to teach and other useful tips can be found at: Children: Education and Education Resources.

We can explore the traditions and culture of different countries to better understand them and their language. Even though we may not be able to travel to other countries, with today's technology we have the opportunity of communicating with people all over the world through the Internet, especially e-mail.

The Marshall University Web site suggests, "demonstrate to children that learning a second language is valuable. Provide them with books and tapes in another language. take them to cultural events that feature another country. Explore international programs that give young people an opportunity to experience a different culture firsthand. If your local school does not offer a foreign language program, talk to the the principal about establishing one."

Foreign languages not only improve ourselves, they also strengthen our society and build up our national security, especially at such a crucial time in history.


Copyright 1997-2004 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
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