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?