Click this video link to see a great collection of videos showcasing the importance of bi/multi-lingualism with humor (Thank you Peter Smagorinsky for sending the link!). But my question is this: if we can all laugh together about limited second language abilities (take a look, these video clips are FUNNY!), why can we not all agree to put more dollars and human resources into school-wide efforts to increase U.S. bilingualism? All of you who send your children to public bilingual schools or live where there are rich and varied second language learning opportunities–go back to your coffee and keep that smug grin on your major metropolitan or cool college town face. My college town face is still perplexed in my Southern town. The reality is that to live a life that is supportive of full bilingual-biliterate potential in the U.S. is extremely challenged, requires a great deal of work, and a healthy sense of humor.
Cambio: español. No soy perfecta–muy lejos de perfecta. Hago errores en cada otra oración –ni siquiera, hago el esfuerzo de comunicarme en mi segundo idioma lo mejor que pueda; lo más frequente que pueda. Si no tomo el riesgo del fracasoo (en español, especialmente cuando falto de práctica), no desarrollo. Mi título no es profesora de español; al contrario, me emplearon por mis destrezas en Inglés como Segundo Idioma (ESL). Pero, me pregunto, ¿Cómo enseñar ESL sin poder hablar otro idioma–por lo menos esforzarse uno en el aprendizaje de otro idioma?
Change: English. I see what is happening to me–the farther I get from daily Spanish use, the farther I get from confidence in my own bilingual abilities, from an expansive vocabulary, from feeling safe and dignified. I have this goal: to dignify and share the difficult, tireless, collective process of maintaining strong forms of bilingualism and biliteracy over a lifetime; to cultivate an orientation to second/additional language learning that recognizes the work involved in order to also have a great deal of pleasure and reward–personally and socially.
When I taught my Children’s Literature in Spanish workshop on December 10 to a small group of mostly novice Spanish learners, I spent approximately 3 of the 4 hours in English. A great deal of time was spent on creating a learning community by developing a shared understanding of the relationship between reading in a second language and being able to communicate and function in a second language. I asked learners to look at children’s illustrations drawn by Argentinian writer/illustrator, Martín Eito.
- What cross-cultural information can you understand about this image?
- Looking at this cartoon image, one might ask: what is the same and what is different about this currency and its denominations? What are “dollars” called in Argentina (ans: pesos). Who are the figures represented on the bills? (ans: see this website). So if Julio Argentino Roca is on the $100 peso, who was he? (ans: president, twice over, 1886-94; 1898-1904).
- And the questions continue.
These three hours as an English “tour guide” of Children’s literature in Spanish, asking questions of Spanish language and cultural variety, was fun. But the one hour we spent in Spanish was putting the fun to work. I watched as these adult novice Spanish learners easily re-ordered the text of a Spanish children’s book by another Argentinian, Pablo Zweig, “El Señor Perez Va Al Trabajo.” Then I asked them in pairs to read the re-ordered text out loud. I watched a woman in her forties–who had ebulliently entered the room, turn back into a little girl: shy, embarrassed, reading the text in fits and starts, murmuring through uncertain syllables.
Beginning to decode and produce sounds in a second language is an incredible act of vulnerability.
I felt honored to witness these first adult efforts. On the flip side, I felt uncertain about my own Spanish. I had a delightful surprise visit from a former student from Spain. She’d studied with me (in an all-English class) to get her World Language Certification in K-12 Spanish. Suddenly, when I didn’t know all the gentleman’s names on the Argentinian pesos, I felt awkward and inadequate. Shouldn’t the professor in charge of the class, know everything there is to know about Spanish language and culture? Of course not! There are so many aspects of U.S. English and Culture that I don’t understand–most acutely knowledge about my college town’s football team. I need a Georgia Bulldog dictionary when I don’t have my husband-interpreter around! But no one expects me to understand football as a female academic, least of all myself. But as an emerging expert in language learning, I expect more of myself in Spanish. Regardless of expectations, the message I wish language learners at all levels to take home is this: make mistakes and most importantly, learn and grow from them! Learn to feel comfortable, being uncomfortable–this is a healthy way to develop humility, grace, and care in addition to developing your multilingual potential.
All participants in the Children’s literature workshop were educators and one had just recently become a foster mom to two Spanish-speaking children. She eagerly took to the task–after all, she had a wonderful purpose waiting at home.
Adult second (third, fourth, etc.) language learners, I feel myself coming to the making of a list! Here’s a first take:
The 10 Most Important Things Adult Second Language Learners Need to Know as They Begin to Learn an L2 (first draft):
- Learning another language is not easy–don’t be fooled by marketing that tells you otherwise.
- Adults CAN learn another language expertly. But this requires time, patience, risk-taking, and multiple strategies, including ‘fake it til you make it’!
- Don’t feel guilty when expensive computer programs like Rosetta Stone don’t work for you (they don’t work, by themselves, for most learners).
- Learning another language is easier if you have opportunities to use the language regularly in all modalities: speaking, listening, reading, and writing (and translating) with authentic purpose.
- Learning another language can feel easier, if you learn it for an authentic purpose (just like “zumba dance class” can make exercise feel easier if you enjoy dancing). Find pathways to language learning that feel easier for you based on your own interests and communicative needs: music, gardening, conversational partners, children’s books, Vogue en español, etc.
- You will make mistakes, tons of them; you will feel silly. Be gentle with yourself. Learn from your mistakes–what better skill for life?
- L2 learners will learn humility; you will deepen your ability to care as a global citizen.
- You will make the world a better place by your L2 efforts: building world peace is based on building better global communications. Learning another language, even moving from novice-low to novice-mid level abilities, is worth the effort.
- Learning another language teaches you a great deal about your first language and about yourself as a learner.
- You will never be “done”–learning a language is a lifetime activity.
Please add your own items to this list and let me know about them! I’ll let you know if my Bulldog-ease gets any better and my Spanish too!