About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The importance of multiple languages to understand communication

Lately, my son has decided he needs to learn more languages to get into graduate school for History. He studied Spanish from grade 2-12, then took Italian for a year and a half, and Latin for a half a year. After studying in Italy for a semester, he came home this summer ready to tackle French. The second summer semester in which he would study French 2 was cancelled, so he decided to get a copy of his university's syllabus, order the book, and with help from me (I received certification to teach French in the state of Vermont), he is tackling French 2 so he can study French 3, German, and Latin next year.

Now, while it sounds as if he is a gifted language learner, the fact is that after 12 years of Spanish, a third and fourth language became easier to learn. I went through the same process, first studying Spanish in High School, then French in College, then studying at the University of Fribourg where the majority of my courses were taught in French.

In watching the process from afar (from my son), I realized how important it is to learn multiple languages to understand the communication process and one's own language. It also is important to be immersed in another language to understand linguistics, semantics, non-verbal communication, expressive language/language choice, and symbolic representation of language (writing in its various formats).

Studies on bi-lingual speakers have confirmed that bilingualism helps to create cognitive flexibility. I see this with my own niece who is English/Slovakian bilingual. It has helped with her reading comprehension, expressive writing skills, and critical thinking.

It is not enough to learn a second language, however. Learning a third language helps to establish language patterns from which speakers can understand differences and similarities. We don't stop teaching math at just algebra or science at just biology. There are some universal truths in each discipline, but just as many differences that create a deeper understanding through disruption of patterns.

This is a reality that is very difficult to convey to the majority of American teachers (especially ELA) who are monolingual. I have had many discussions in education, writing, and communication classes, workshops, and/or conferences in which the monolingual teacher does not understand the cognitive process that happens in speaking a foreign language. It is hard to articulate the communication process in understanding others who language does not fit the boundaries of native speakers (although at other times, different accents and non-standard language does fit the boundaries). This is where socio- and anthrolinguistics comes in. But this is difficult to understand if someone has never experienced when cultural boundaries of language are tested.

So my recommendation is that all linguistics, ELA, Writing, communication, and reading teachers be exposed to multiple language learning (we would be taught in a non-familiar language such as Thai, Chinese, Portuguese, or Hindi for the introduction of each topic in my language acquisition class), if not required to study at least 2 foreign languages and study in a non-English speaking country or territory.

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