April 2003
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Bilingual at young age
By Victor N., Age 13, Toronto, ON

Bilingualism, in my opinion, is the ability to speak two separate languages fluently, proficiently, easily and naturally, using it in every day communications without translating from the mother tongue.

Why would someone want to be bilingual? However much you may have disliked French in elementary and middle school grades (until Grade 10 in Ontario), I believe most people wouldn’t deny how useful it would be if they knew both English and French, or even more languages. And just from knowing another language, you are able to communicate with many other interesting people around the globe, and travel a country (or a continent) with ease. It is also a great skill creating paths to many jobs and employment; for example, many departments of the Government of Canada would like their employees to be bilingual. Furthermore, learning a second language also increases cultural sensitivity, and also their own. It would also develop better grammar skills in English, with the awareness of gender, word placements, lexical indifferences, etc… After all, English speakers (including those using it as a second language) comprise only 508,000,000 out of 5,570,000,000 people. Wouldn’t it be great to cover another 128,000,000?

Canada is an officially bilingual society, and by knowing French fluently, you are able to communicate to the rest of Canada. French is spoken in more countries and on more continents than any other language except for English. No matter where you go, everyone would be able to assist you in either of the official languages in Canada, and also other countries.

Bilingualism has its benefits also from the psychological point of view. Research by Dr. Kenji Hakuta from Stanford University shows that people who speak more than one language have a greater ability to understand and analyze concepts because they have more than one language system to rely on. Being fluently bilingual increases our access to multiple perspectives and ways of life in an international, multicultural society.
(Parents Place.com Article by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser, Parenting Experts: Bilingual Family Pros and Cons).

Currently bilinguals are only 17.65% of the entire population. Many Anglophones outside the province of Quebec find no use for it or are discouraged by their peers to continue French in high school.

The same is happening to children. I know many kids who have both their parents bilingual, but they refuse to speak in the other language. This is a disappointment because they have this great chance to learn the language easily, and they give it up. Later on, when they find out how useful it maybe, it would be too late. Therefore, a caregiver’s support in building languages at an early stage is very important.

Children actually wouldn’t be discouraged before they even start French. In fact, many Grade 3s (the grade before Core French in Ontario starts) have great enthusiasm to learn French, but then they start to lose interest by the end of Grade 4. Why though? We obviously see that the French program is either not attractive enough for them, too boring, or the progression in Grade 4 is too fast. Peer pressure is also a main factor. By middle school, few students will understand the material being taught, even if it was explained over and over again, because they have lost the interest, or they do not understand since they do not have the fundamentals understood.

With the enactment of the Official Languages Act, all public services are currently offered in both of the official languages. This encourages many more people to become bilingual, providing services to Canadians in both official languages.

Many studies show that one should start foreign language studies as soon as possible, preferably before the age of 10. When a baby is born, it is full of the capacity to learn a new language just by imitating and hearing his/her environment. The earlier s/he hears the accents and sound of another language, there is much more possibility that s/he will develop it. If s/he is also given chance to be exposed in the language, and the opportunity to speak it, chances are that s/he will speak it fluently. This way, the child would treat both their mother tongue and the foreign language equally. Also, it just makes more sense to start it early because they would be given more time to learn it.

Therefore I encourage all of you to assist younger children learn a foreign language with much more facility, so that their future might change knowing another language. That might be volunteering in a community center, or a daycare center… That way, you might earn community service hours as well. You can also help promote the importance of early childhood care to many parents around your community. One high school principal once said to me, “A child has only one year of age 5, if the child does not get the education s/he needs, s/he will never get it the same way. For example, if the child was afraid of school when s/he starts grade 1, s/he will forever have this deep-down fear inside. It would be way too late to fix it anything later.” Your help can really make a difference.

You, as a youth, can also do something for yourself. Try to learn a foreign language that interests you before it is too late. (Although there is not really a “too late” stage, earlier is better.) And there, you are linking all the youths in the world together, being able to communicate in another tongue. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone can speak one lingua franca as well as their own?

“Well, I think being bilingual is a perfect way to open our minds in the world. It allows us to know about different cultures and different nations. It is a perfect tool which can unify a big part of the world,” quoted Pierre, a bilingual member of the Schoolnet Youth Advisory Board and a young citizen of Quebec actively demonstrating leadership and volunteering in his neighbourhood.

Don’t think it’s true? I have met many people in secondary, post-secondary education and even adults who regret that they did not continue their French education in high school, or have forgot all their Spanish and German from college. One of my teachers found a job because she knew French. And bosses would love it if their employees, being able to speak another language, help them expand their businesses to where the main market does not speak English.

Being bilingual (multilingual in some cases) is a great thing. I, myself, am being brought up in a monolingual family, and now I’m trying very hard to achieve my goal to be a trilingual—French. Those who are also brought up that way should not be discouraged by parents and peers to learn another language. From all the benefits being a bilingual, as well as starting foreign languages early; you can convince your peers that French is neither useless nor difficult, and it’s a great thing to have in life. You might find the interest to learn other languages as well.

Consequently, bilingualism is beneficial and should be encouraged in all communities.

Research for this article was gathered from the following sources:

Encarta Smart Parenting: Speaking in Tongues

Statistics Canada - Learning Resources Section

Ethnologue for World Language Statistics

Parenting Experts: Bilingual Family - Pros and Cons

Justice Canada Official Languages Act


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