Saturday, April 7, 2012

English is NOT enough

Although my profession as an English language instructor is being sustained by millions of people who want to learn English, we native English speakers are becoming the minority.  That is, since there isn't a lot of pressure here in the USA to learn a second language, we don't.  However, there is lots of evidence from brain-based learning research suggesting that being multilingual is a brain enhancement.  In addition, economic reports forecasting the job markets of the future say that bilingualism is better than monolingualism.

What does this mean?  It means that people who speak only English may be the dinosaurs of the future. In a recent article in Language Magazine, Kristal Bivona discusses the rise in importance of Portuguese as Brazil becomes an important economic force in the Western Hemisphere. Other reports suggest that Spanish is the language of the future.  If you see China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong as markets to tap into, then Chinese, despite its daunting script and vocal tones, is a language worth learning. Not only that, we have to consider which Chinese to learn - Cantonese or Mandarin.

While Americans are opening up to China, some don't like the idea that schools in the USA are accepting funds from the Chinese government to teach Mandarin.  Despite NCLB policy that is supposed to raise the standard of education in this country, funding for education seems to be a low priority in most city and state budgets.  I guess the Chinese see a long-term benefit to teaching young Americans their language.  Those parents who aren't worried about some hidden agenda of a foreign power may find that their children who learn Mandarin Chinese will have a distinct advantage over their monolingual age-mates when they are old enough to enter the job markets in their 20's.

If only my ESL students could understand that they're actually in a great position relative to most of their instructors because English is their SECOND language.  They've got two languages to our ONE.

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