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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Doesn’t Matter

I want to get a T-shirt that says “I don’t care how many languages my daughter ends up speaking.” This will simplify many conversations. 

I’m so tired of hearing the popular wisdom on the importance of language learning in childhood. I’m usually the only actual language education professional in the conversation, and I know for a fact it’s all bunk. 

The only activity every child needs to do is play. That’s it, period. It doesn’t matter when they learn to walk, talk, eat with a spoon, speak foreign languages, read, write, or count. It. Doesn’t. Matter. And if they end up only speaking one language that’s. Perfectly. Fine.

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15 thoughts on “Doesn’t Matter

  1. Learning a second language is more easy for very young kids…IF THEY ARE INTERESTED TO DO IT!

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  2. With you all the way! I get a lot of grief that my boys only speak English and that DH and I speak English to each other probably 90% of the time. (Why wouldn’t we? Our whole lives are in English. We live in an English-speaking country.) I think this insistence on multiple languages is another manifestation of the US’s collective inferiority complex with respect to Europe. I really wish the US would get over it — people in Europe don’t speak multiple languages because they are smarter or more virtuous; they do it because many countries are only a few hundred miles across and surrounded by countries where other languages are spoken. If the people from Illinois and Indiana spoke different languages, all Illinoisans would easily be bilingual.

    I see a similar thing with education (people insisting that keeping a kid academically challenged at all times is the most important thing of all). All my boys are quite bright, but I am not dying to have them accelerated through school (skipping grades and whatnot); they all love their friends and would not stand for it. In middle school you can start accelerating in individual subjects, like math, which we did and will do with other kids likely, but I think skipping grades, especially in middle school, is not the best idea, mostly because there is so much disparity in middle school between the little 6th graders (most pre-puberty) and 8th graders (most of whom have been under the hormonal flood for 1-2 years already) that it must be quite daunting for the very young kids who’ve skipped grades.

    I was sometimes bored at school, but I don’t think it was an issue overall. I found plenty of ways to amuse myself, and the arts/crafts/minor mischief that I did on my own or with the kids who sat near me are among my best memories from my childhood. Honestly, I think the social aspect of going to school K-12 is as important, if not more important, than the actual content of what the kids learn. Kids being comfortable with who they are, learning to relate to peers without anxiety, forging strong friendships, beginning to date, I think these are extremely important.

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    • As somebody keeps saying to me, “But knowing several languages will make her so much more competitive on the job market.” She’s 16 months old! May I let her exist outside the job market for now?

      I also agree about the schooling. I went to a crappy Soviet school but am I any less intellectual that people who went to fancy private school in the US?

      Gosh, let’s leave kids in peace to enjoy their childhoods. Who knows what they will be into in adulthood? There’s tons of time to figure it out.

      And I’m also opposed to skipping grades.

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    • Shakti on said:

      I think this insistence on multiple languages is another manifestation of the US’s collective inferiority complex with respect to Europe.

      Is it though? I figured most people in the US don’t care but when it comes to immigrants and their children they go into these stances where it’s never neutral.
      It is always a way to judge your parenting or lack thereof. Teach the kids the language and you’re preventing them from assimilating. Don’t teach the kids the language and you’re depriving them of their culture. Perhaps upper to upper middle class people think of it as another class marker or a competitive achievement for colleges.

      Usually most people have no idea what an effort it takes to learn even one language because this process is invisible to them. Clarissa has described learning Spanish as a transformation. Jhumpa Lahiri’s recent book describes <a href=https://www.amazon.com/Other-Words-Jhumpa-Lahiri/dp/1101875550″>her relationship with Italian. My parents started learning English through school in an immersion curricula from kindergarten and high school.
      If my parents had spoken to me in their other languages and provided schooling necessary for it, it would actually be a detriment on the job market for me, not a bonus. It’s quite a hilarity to hear this coming out of people’s mouths when even a small accent in their own language makes the same people turn off.

      Even the most liberal people who think language learning is good want the bonus of learning the language but don’t want to deal with any culture or people who might be attached.

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      • This is a crucial point. For children of immigrants, this is a complex issue, and forcing this is so not a good idea. And I know what you mean about this beimg to one’s detriment on the job market.

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      • Oh, thanks Shakti for alerting me that there is a new book by Jhumpa Lahiri, I love her! 🙂 I agree with all of you. We had many bilingual kids in my high school class (about half) but I noticed that the best writers in out class were all not bilingual. There was no such difference in any other subject like maths. I assume that does not have to be true for very gifted kids but for many there seems to be a slight disadvantage regarding their primary language.

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  3. The Dark Avenger on said:

    There are over 100 languages in my wife’s native Phillipine Islands.

    She can say no in all of them.

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  4. Perhaps the story of Kip Kinkel is a cautionary tale for parents determined to raise their kids bilingual. Or perhaps that aspect of his background is merely coincidental.

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