Why Bilingual?

I’ve been spending the last week getting my new classroom ready for the upcoming school year. Organizing. Cleaning. Hanging things on the walls. All in an effort to give my students a place where they feel safe and comfortable so they can learn and grow alongside me.

But my students won’t be in a traditional pre-k classroom. I won’t teach them science or social studies. Why? Because they get to go next door and get taught those things in Spanish. These young kiddos have the privilege of getting to learn two languages starting at such a young age. This is huge, especially in today’s society.

But why do I even care? Why is this important to me?

In eighth grade, I started taking Spanish courses. I’m sure many people did the same as it is typically a requirement now. I took classes all the way through my sophomore year in college. I had different teachers that had different ways of teaching over those seven years, but one thing was always constant. I wasn’t just learning the language, I was learning about the people who speak the language, their cultures, their ways of life, what makes them who they are.

Sure, my teachers could have just taught me the language, but what is the point of speaking the language if you don’t know anything about it, where it comes from, or the people who speak it?

Fast forward to the summer of 2015. I went on a short study abroad trip to Costa Rica. It was only 11 days, but it was long enough to notice a common thread among the Ticos. Every single person we encountered was incredibly friendly toward us. I never felt judged. I felt welcomed. They wanted to show us what their country was about and were so happy we were there. Interestingly enough, almost everyone we encountered also spoke English (sans the taxi drivers and older generations).

Some may say this is a coincidence. Some may say that their leading industry is tourism so of course they are friendly to tourists. But I choose to believe otherwise.

I believe that when you learn another language and, in turn, more about the culture and the people that speak it, you become more accepting and welcoming of the people from that culture. You don’t feel the need to bash on their culture or where they come from, but instead you celebrate it and treat those people with kindness.

Why do I believe this? Because I’ve experienced it. The more I learned about the Spanish language and the places it is spoken and the various cultures and people associated with it, I developed an immense appreciation for them. It’s that simple.

My experiences, both with learning Spanish and the way I was treated abroad, are the epitome of why I am so incredibly passionate about children learning another language. Of course there are countless other reasons, but those are for another time. Yes, there are other ways to teach children about other cultures, people, and ways of life, but, in my experience, none of those have been as meaningful or impactful as the times I did so while also studying and learning the language.

I think about how so many Americans treat outsiders today and the lack of emphasis we put on bilingualism. Then I think about how welcome I felt in Costa Rica and the extreme emphasis they put on creating bilingual kids. We visited several schools during our time there, and each school, starting with preschool age kids, taught at least a little bit of English during their day.

It is important to them for their children to know another language and it should be just as important to us to create more opportunities for young children to become bilingual.

Just think about how our country could change if we really believed in educating our kids on other cultures, ways of life, and people. What better way to do that than teaching them another language?

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This, I Believe

Children deserve a place, regardless of ability, to laugh, love, be loved, and grow. This, I believe.

For the past eight months, I have worked with young toddlers in a daycare on campus. Each semester, some new kiddos are brought into our classroom so we see a constant sea of new faces. This semester, two of the new kids have disabilities. One little girl has Down Syndrome, who I will call Krista, and the other little girl will likely be diagnosed with Autism, who I will call Bella. Before working with these two girls, I had never had the chance to interact with children with disabilities before on any level so it was incredibly new for me.

When the semester began, Bella often played on her own and didn’t make eye contact even when my eyes were right there for her to look at. Getting her attention, much less holding it, and figuring out what she wanted when she wasn’t happy was difficult and that became frustrating to me, until I started singing to her. Bella loves to sing and be sung to. As soon as I start singing, she looks into my eyes and the biggest grin comes across her face even if she was crying just a second before. Knowing that she struggles with this, it melts my heart every single time. I sing song after song to Bella, and she continues to look at me, with a grin from ear to ear, and we love the power of song together.

Now, a month and a half later, Bella will tell me what sound an animal makes when I prompt her, use simple sign language, and even occasionally make eye contact with me even when I’m not singing. I have seen the progress that Bella has made in such a short amount of time, and it warms my heart to know I played a part in it. My experience with Bella has shown me that if I actively choose to laugh with and love every child that is in my classroom, then I can make a positive difference in a child’s life someday or maybe even today.

All of the toddlers that I work with hold an incredibly special place in my heart and have shown me what it really means to love someone like they are my own. All of these kiddos deserve the world, and I believe that through showing them it’s okay to laugh, love, be loved, and grow with me that it’s at their fingertips.