Monday, February 15, 2010

Which Foreign Language Should Your Child Learn?

Children NOT Encouraged to Acquire a Foreign Language

While nearly a third of UK parents do not actively encourage their children to acquire a second or foreign language according to a study by the National Centre for Languages (CILT), foreign language learning should be encouraged and developed to a much higher degree in schools worldwide. True, many parents, both in the UK and the USA, may harbour their own personal prejudices on foreign language learning, this should not be allowed to alternatively shape the growth, development and education of their children. Globally aware parents really need to consider the long term view of what their children may well face in the coming decades.

Think about this: How many of you could have predicted doing the job you have right now as recently as ten years ago? Look around your house. How many possessions, digital, electronic or otherwise, could you have named when you were in school? How has your occupation, livelihood and daily life been impacted by changes on an everyday basis which you couldn’t even have dreamed of as a youth, young adult or even just a few short years ago? As a youth, I swore I’d never be a teacher. Now I’m a university level English as a foreign language professor. Go figure.

Which Foreign Language Should Your Child Learn?

But just which foreign language should your child learn? The question is much more complex than you might initially imagine. Just because you bombed French in junior high school doesn’t mean that the only “French” your child should learn is “French fries”. By the way, that’s not even French, either. If “caramba” or “Ole” are your only Spanish, that shouldn’t be the root cause of your child not becoming fluent in Castellano. Unfortunately, all too often this is the case. Your parents, grandparents and perhaps even you may not have had the opportunity for exposure to Chinese in one of its multiple dialects, but don’t automatically as a matter of course, rule it out for your charges. The world has changed and continues to morph at what may well be an alarming rate for many teachers, parents and even children themselves. Acquisition of a foreign language can be one way of allowing our children and ourselves to cope with the almost constant barrage of new cultures, foods, music, fashion, technology and ideas which pour down on us like the rain of a hurricane gone wild.

What’s a foreign language teacher or concerned parent to do?

The ethnic makeup of cities, neighborhoods and in some cases, entire countries is shifting in ways we could never have accurately predicted. The local news stand might now stock newspapers and magazines in foreign tongues. From French and Spanish to Arabic and Punjabi, the media is changing to reflect the altering makeup of our communities. Are you?

Stroll through your local supermarket. Notice anything new on the shelves of late? I certainly do. Even the meat counter now sports “cuts” of beef like cow’s eyes and lungs, pork, lamb and chicken parts like chicken feet among others, that were noticeably absent just a short time ago. The same follows with fruits and vegetables on offer. Plantain, yucca, a widening variety of hot and mild peppers, jicama, mamey, and a host of other “imported” offerings now routinely grace shelves once reserved only for more “traditional” fare.

Foreign Languages Come in Families

So as far as foreign language learning is concerned, what should you be considering for your child or children? Well, look at how the ethnic makeup of your area is changing, then consider what foreign languages might be useful to know in the short and long term. Remember, if you can speak one language fluently, there’s absolutely no reason why you (or your child) can’t learn two or three or more foreign languages. Yes, some foreign languages a re more difficult to learn than others, depending on what your first language is, but that’s not to say a foreign language outside the linguistic family of your first language (L1) can’t be learned. It’ll just take a bit more time and effort to do so. There are approximately 6712 languages spoken worldwide at present. Many are disappearing, but many others are not. Consider well and choose wisely, grasshopper. Your child’s depending on you.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries. Get your FREE E-book, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting article, but I didn't really feel the author answered the original question in the long run. The last paragraph does suggest examining the changes in ethnic makeup of the area in which one lives, but any recommendations of which foreign language to choose were seriously lacking. There are so many considerations that would impact the choice of a foreign language to learn that I would have liked to see these addressed.