Thursday, September 28, 2006

Which language should your child take?

Which language should your child take?

As a Spanish teacher, I’m always being asked for recommendations about which language a child should take.

This frequently comes up when children are moving up from elementary school – where in many cases, Spanish is the only language offered ¬ to middle school, where they actually have a choice for the first time. And this is what I often hear:

“Joey want to take French, but I think he should keep taking Spanish. I mean, he’s been learning Spanish since kindergarten, and it’s such a useful language ....”

To which I reply ....

Joey should take whatever language he wants!

Parents are almost always surprised by my response, especially since I am a Spanish teacher. And in fact, there are a number of language experts who disagree with me as well. Neither one likes to see what was learned in elementary school “wasted” if the child moves on to another language.

But to me, language is about a passion to communicate, a connection to the people, a love for the sound and feeling of the language, an interest in the culture and the countries where the language is spoken.

So as much as possible, you should be studying the language that appeals to YOU.

I don’t want people in my Spanish classes because they think it’s useful or – even worse – that it’s easy. (Hello?? Por vs. para? Ser vs. estar? A gazillion irregular verbs? Subjunctive????)

I want students who want to learn Spanish because they love it, because they love the sound of it, the culture, the music, the people, the poetry, the history, the literature ....

Certainly, we as teachers will always strive to bring that excitement into our classrooms and instill that love in all students. But sometimes, as in any relationship, the heart is elsewhere.

In languages, as in love, el corazón tiene razones que la razón desconoce. The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.

But what about those “wasted” years, the time spent on another language that would be abandoned if a child moves on to another language?

No te preocupes. Don’t worry. I don’t believe any of that time, or any of that language learning, is wasted. In languages, anything that you have already learned will enhance what you study in the future. Even if it’s a different language, you are still programming your mind to learn different vocabulary, different sentence structures, and different ways of expressing things. And anything that you study in the future will reinforce what you have already learned – “Oh yes, that’s like what I learned in Spanish,” or “Oh, that’s different from the way you say it in Spanish.”

To reinforce my point, I always point out to parents – whose children, in most cases, started learning Spanish in kindergarten – that I didn’t learn a word of Spanish until 11th grade. I took Latin for four years, and then started Spanish (and the following year, added Italian). And even I, with my very self-critical manner, will say that I am near-native fluent now.

How and why did I become fluent? Because I loved the language, the culture, the people, the music, the food, the poetry, the literature .... all of it. Because I followed my heart and my interests and my passion.

So, which language should your child take?

Ask your child.

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