July 29, 2005
Kathleen Conti, 16, is
a student at Canyon del Oro High School
Parents rush to buy the latest "Baby Einstein" videos,
teachers frantically attempt to prepare students for various life-or-death
standardized tests, and legislators revise the infamous No Child Left Behind
Act, yet we still seem to be falling behind in education.
GUEST COLUMN OPINION BY KATHLEEN CONTI
Young Voices: foreign languages
Perhaps the solution is simpler than we thought - finally
ensure that children are fluent in more than one language. Many children in
other countries grow up learning two or more languages, while some Americans
should barely be called fluent in their mother tongue.
Although high schools and universities in Arizona require two
years of a foreign language, the average student does not reach fluency and
readily loses his meager grasp of it.
Multiple studies have proved the distinct opportunity in
children from birth to age 10 to achieve fluency. Once puberty hits, the
brain undergoes a series of changes to trim down idle connections and
thought processes, thus strengthening and enhancing the remaining ones.
The Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York did a series of
studies regarding the brain's perception of languages. In those who learned
two languages from an early age, the MRI showed three areas of activity: two
smaller but equal clusters for each language and one large, overlapping
area, which was where the brain processed both languages simultaneously. For
those who learned another language later in life, their brains had two very
separate and occasionally distant locations for storage and comprehension.
America has prided itself on being a "melting pot" for
various cultures that have traversed the globe, but it is often selective
and idealistic about which cultures are allowed to flavor the stew.
The 2000 U.S. Census stated that more than 18 percent of
residents speak a language other than English at home. This is a 75 percent
increase since 1990 and still does not take into account those without
The world is getting smaller, and the utopian ideal that
everyone should speak English is becoming ludicrous. Not only is the
knowledge of more than one language a necessity for global citizenship, it
enriches the brain in ways science is just beginning to realize.
In North Carolina, children who studied a foreign language in
elementary school scored higher in reading, languages, arts and math than
those who spoke only one language. Even their scores on the SAT and
university entrance exams are higher.
Goethe, a German philosopher, said, "The person who knows
only one language does not truly know that language." Educators and others
claim there are insufficient funds for foreign language instruction. But if
our children are to have a successful future, we must invest in language