Learning That's Not 'Tacked On'

Dec 1, 2017

Worldwide, most people are at least bilingual. Yet how many times have you heard, “I studied French in high school, but I don’t remember any of it?”

Studies confirm the experience of millions: Language acquisition is far more successful when begun in the first few years of life and sustained.

So why do we still “tack on” foreign languages so late? Is it our limited view regarding the purpose of education as a collection of finished outcomes? Add separate subjects to your toolkit, and presto, you’re ready for the workforce.

Of course, real learning is never a finished outcome. It is a continually-evolving process of identity and knowledge formation. Our second-language learning failure is the dying canary that signals our misguided views on education.

Another language, like another culture, is not a “tacked-on,” translated version of your mother tongue. It’s a new way of seeing everything. Kindergarteners immersed in other languages do experience initial confusion, but an explosion of benefits awaits.

Besides the broader viewpoint gained through another language, studies confirm the significant cognitive improvements that last until death, staving off mental decline.

Immersion programs succeed when woven into other subjects since early childhood. Soon-to-be parents, if you are bilingual, pass this on to your children by speaking only in the language that they are otherwise not exposed to.

The hard part is ensuring they’ll respond to you only in the target language, but it’s worth the effort. You’ll expand the world through which they’ll experience their lives.

I’m Bill Gahan, and that’s my perspective.