Oregon: Parents should be game for dual languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Dec 22 13:33:19 UTC 2006

 Opinion Thursday, December 21, 2006

Parents should be game for dual languages

Bilingual toys might offer kids a competitive edge later

December 21, 2006

Santa had better make a list and check it twice before leaving bilingual
Elmo or Dora dolls beneath Mid-Valley Christmas trees. It's not because of
the "naughty" or "nice" factor; it's just that some folks don't want their
tykes nudged to learn a second language. That's the gist of many of the
comments added to Tuesday's "bilingual toys" story on
StatesmanJournal.com. These readers are entitled to be proud monoglots,
speaking one language only. They even can teach their kids -- by example
if not by word -- that hearing another language on the street is an
affront to red-white-and-blue American ears.

But we can't help but wonder how these youngsters will fare around 2020,
when they start to look for their first jobs. By then the U.S. work force
will be about 17 percent foreign-born, up from about 15 percent today,
according to statistics gathered by the independent Migration Policy
Institute. With the huge baby boom generation retiring in great numbers,
immigrants will be in high demand. Foreign-born workers will be snapped up
for job openings at both ends of the wage scale -- as software engineers,
registered nurses and college teachers, and as cooks, janitors, home-care
aides and food-preparation workers.

The better-educated newcomers will speak English, of course; but an older
generation and newcomers with little education might find the new language
daunting. Nevertheless, local stores will court their dollars by rolling
out the welcome mat in whatever language will do the job. Meanwhile,
public services will be delivered in various languages, because everyone
still needs to know the rules of the road and the state's laws regarding
vaccinations, among many other things. So when our preschoolers of today
start job-hunting around 2020, which group will have more choices: Will it
be the young adults who speak one language, English, and are proud of it?

Or will it be those who had the fortune to absorb a second language back
when that skill came as naturally as climbing, sliding and tumbling in the
park? Who, encouraged by that success, perhaps went on to learn a third
language, like so many students worldwide do? We're betting that the
bilingual kids have the edge. Speaking two or more languages opens all
kinds of opportunities for young people. Learning a second language also
helps one appreciate different cultures, which grows more important as the
globe shrinks. Of course, the English-only kids aren't stuck. They still
can learn another language if they need to. But as any adult who has spent
hours memorizing vocabulary can attest, that task will never again be
child's play.

Copyright 2006 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon



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