Into the Melting Pot we go...
As a growing number of countries instruct their children in English, the opportunities to learn by living life from another perspective are increasingly hard to come by.
On a recent trip to sun drenched Greece, my family and I were keen to show our hospitable hosts our respect for their language and culture, even though we had never spoken Greek before in our lives. Consequently we tripped over vowels, stared blindly at road signs, and got lost…a lot. Though we were determined to keep trying.
“Efharisto” I said as I handed over my money to the shopkeeper.
“That’s okay. I speak English.” He said perfectly.
“No. It’s alright, I’d really like to learn, if only a little bit of Greek while I’m here. If you don’t mind.” And so, he taught me how to pronounce the Greek word for Thank You properly.
“Like this, Ef- chk- arris- toh.”
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, that’s what I have always been taught- only try not to spit on people while you do it- that doesn’t go down so well.
It’s always good to learn a second language. It makes us more remarkable on the global market when it comes to career day and perhaps more importantly, widens our horizons and awareness of more than one culture, one perspective, one way of doing and being in the world.
Last month I saw an article on CNN about a Madrasa in Kerala choosing to change its primary medium of instruction from Arabic to English. The belief was that teaching in English would open the doors of opportunity for them and break down the separatist image of Madrasas.
“(With English) we can tell our ideas to a non Islamic Person,” one bright young boy asserts on the film reel.
Brilliant, I thought, use English to make your-self understood. Maybe English could be the universal language, the one great equalizer that enables us all to get along and understand each other more clearly. But that can be done if English is taught as a second language too. Furthermore, studies repeatedly show that teaching in one’s mother tongue gives greater benefit. Teaching in a foreign language favors students already proficient in that language or who have greater than average linguistic ability. There are many nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East now choosing to teach their children reading, writing, mathematics, life skills, morality, religion, in a language other than their own. Every child has a right to a quality education, it should be comprehensible to all.
This continued perception of English being the dominant language and culture scares me, but not so much as the potential loss of culture and identity that could occur as nations struggle to learn English in favor of being understood and accepted on the world stage.
“I’m half Puerto Rican, half Italian, half Venezualan, a quarter Scottish and about an eighth American.” So said my sons’ globally minded best buddy one day.
“I’m English and American,” My son said in response, “From Yorkshire.” Ah! I sighed in relief. My Yorkshire mate and I, have made a concerted effort through the years to teach our son where he came from, where his roots are, who he is. We’ve nourished his growing spirit on regional comfort food like Parkin and Tea Cakes and Yorkshire Tea and anything else vaguely Yorkshire we could find to throw at him, not literally. Yorkshire Pudding is a favorite treat.
“Aye, lad, there’s nowt like a good ol’ Yorkshire pudding to warm thissen on a cold winter’s night!” I remarked one day.
“What was that you said Mummy?”
Hmm…How could I have neglected to teach him those colorful Yorkshire words?
It seems it's all too easy to lose a language when we no longer need to speak it. I think everyone should desperately hold onto their own languages as an integral part of their culture, identity, of their being in the world. I want a world for my children where every nation is celebrated and accepted for their equal difference.
“Language, is the spiritual exhalation of the nation,” so says Wilhelm Von Humboldt, we must hold on to it.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.