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CLXVINo. 57,203

2016 The New York Times

New York, Friday, April 15, 2016

$2.50

Early Start to Second Language Learning Helps Students in the Long Run
By Shazeena Ashraf

THERE
are
approximately
6,800 spoken languages
around the world and yet
most
Americans
are
monolingual. For hundreds
of years, Americans have
expected and relied on
other countries to speak
English.
For example,
when the first colonists
arrived, instead of learning
the native languages, the
settlers made the Natives
learn English. If that is not
the definition of laziness,
then I do not know what is.
This

laziness is due to the fact


that many just do not care
or have the eagerness to
learn another language. In
an American society, the
citizens consider this as a
norm but the rest of the
world in fact frowns upon
monolinguals. So how can
we, as Americans, ensure
that we are not only the top
competitors
in
sports,
military, consumerism but
also in education as well?
An option
could
be
that

education
systems
incorporate
a
second
language
into
the
curriculum
along with
math, science, and English
as soon as a child begins
school. For example,
teaching Spanish as early
as kindergarten could be
easily implemented since
about 17% of all citizens in
the United States are
Hispanic, surpassing the
12.3% of Blacks and 5%
Asians, as reported by a
study done by Factank. By
not
teaching
another
language at the beginning of
an individual's

academic career, we are


basically undermining the
capabilities of children. In
other words, if we do not try
this, then we will never
know the true capacities of
the children. Although an
option is given to middle
schoolers to take a second
language, many students
still do not consider the
option because just like
children before them, they
do not consider the benefits.
When
children
begin
school, they are still in the
pre- occupational stage, a
stage where a child is just
starting to make sense of
their surroundings
and
their brain is thus growing
which means this is the
optimal time for them to be
learning various languages
at
once.
Snow
and
Hoefnagel in their book on
child development argue
that because the children are
still going through the
stages
of
cognitive
development and according
to the Critical Period
Hypothesis, children learn
languages more easily
because of the plasticity of
the brain which lets them
use both of the hemispheres
of the brain for language
acquisition. However, as we
grow older, we lose this
plasticity, limiting us to use
only the left hemisphere,
making it more difficult for
adults to learn another
language. Hence, such early
cognitive development in
children creates not only a
more learned, but also a more
tolerant and appreciative
generation that can work to

make the United States a


true melting pot of cultures.
In a rapidly changing and
increasingly interconnected
world, to be oblivious of
anothers
culture
or
language
inhibits
the
formation
of
social,
economic, and educational
networks.
Learning
multiple languages can
actually have profound
effect on the brain as well.
In fact, the MRIs of two
individuals, one who is
monolingual and the other
bilingual,
look
quite
different. Scientific studies
have shown that people
who are bilingual actually
have a higher density of
grey matter in their brains
which contains most of the
neurons and thus the
synapses. The more the
synapses, the easier for
more signals to travel
through
the
synaptic
transduction
pathways,
allowing
for
more
connections and memories
to be made. A benefit of
this would be getting a
better
score
on
a
standardized test according
to an article on The
Atlantic
by
Cody
Delistraty. Also, an MRI
depicts the bilingual person
showing more activity
when given a problem or a
situation. As stated by
American Museum of
Natural History on a video
on Youtube, it enforces the
bilinguals to launch the left
caudate in the brain which
enables us to switch from
one language to another,
demonstrating
how
bilingual individuals are

tapping into and activating


more and more parts of the
brain.
If something is
beneficial to the future of
our nation, why are we not
doing it? A theory proposed
by politicians aiming for
education reform is that
there are not enough funds
being
allocated
for
programs such as teaching
second languages as our
nation vows to fund other
areas such as the military
(Bernie Sanders). If the
same amount of economic
and political effort was put
into educating the future of
this nation, especially in the
ways of the rest of the
world, it may in fact
become a more humane,
livable, and tolerant society.
Communication
barriers
amongst some employers
and employees would
deteriorate, opening more
doors of opportunities for
many in the workplace. Not
only that but in the long
run, being multilingual can
in fact delay the effects of
Alzheimers disease as well
as other forms of dementia.
When
the
future
generations
are
being
taught
right,
the
possibilities for the future
of this nation are endless in
all sectors of society.