Why Not Be a Superhero?
Second Language Learning Makes Us Smarter
Language learning does make us super smart. Think about some of the commonalities of language teachers. Language teachers always teach other teacher’s content, reference other languages than the one they are teaching, and change like chameleons to blend from one surrounding to another. These are actually signs of enhanced mental ability.
Regardless of which language system is currently in use, both language systems stay active at all times in a bilingual brain. This allows us quicker access to a greater array of options in problem solving. Monolinguals are usually constrained to an established pattern of thinking. Bilinguals have the ability to transition into multiple, and at times, conflicting patterns of thinking.
Bilinguals are often more adept at noticing details. This Sherlock-like ability comes from the constant practice of having to track the languages used for meaning and content in order to respond appropriately in the right language at the right time.
Language learning should really be considered the equivalent of power training for the brain. Increasing brainpower enhances decision-making, critical thinking, and mental agility in all areas of life.
Why Not Celebrate Heritage?
Second Language Learning Connects Us to Our Past
World language teaching was criminalized in Nebraska in 1919 as a response to World War I. One country schoolteacher went so far as to tie a naughty Swedish-speaking boy to his chair until he spoke English. Newspaper articles recorded that German speakers were tarred and feathered.
With this kind of past, it is difficult to think that one might be able to appeal to language as a heritage skill. However, genetic kit testing companies are reporting record sales of $99 million dollars this year. Babel Magazine noted that Americans cited the importance of learning their heritage language.
Wherever the district and whatever the language, creatively think of a heritage connection. Read Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark to learn about Nebraska’s Mexican Town. Research Dawes County to find the site of the work camp where 3000 German prisoners-of-war were held in 1943. Review that La Louisiane was a French territory until sold in 1803 and that long after French trappers settled throughout Nebraska. While many Chinese arrived to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad, Omaha’s experience with Chinese shows a variety of Chinese professionals including nationally famous doctors, restaurateurs, and religious leaders.
Heritage does not have to be constrained to the ancestry of the students in your classroom. It can be viewed as a communal gift. By doing so, it allows students to find identity through commonalities and to build a stronger sense of community through a shared past and language.
The Value of World Language
Middlebury Interactive Language’s free poster download illustrates five reasons to learn another language. It’s time to think more about “the why” of language learning. If your “why” explanation has centered only around college admittance requirements, you may be inadvertently advocating for your students to think in the short term and to treat language learning as a chore or necessary evil. In this issue, explore more about “the why” and the value of languages.