Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Destroy a Love of Language in 6 Easy Steps

While perusing the library video shelves yesterday, desperately seeking a video that will satiate Blueberry's desire to learn how to properly cast a broken bone (one doesn't exist, in case you were wondering), I found a video that purports to teach kids Spanish.  Since I am teaching a Spanish class to homeschoolers (including my kids), it naturally peaked my curiosity.  The cover description of the video states,

"Research has shown that children who have been exposed to a foreign language at an early age

  • Learn to read faster with greater ease.
  • Have better problem solving skills.
  • Outperform other kids on standardized tests.
  • Are more creative and have higher levels of confidence.
  • Have better cognitive skills.
  • Have a competitive advantage in the workplace."
Hmmm.  What is missing there?  Let's see...how about, well, there's, you know, being able to converse with people who speak other languages.  Oh, and widening one's circle of friendships.  Perhaps learning about the world outside of our borders?  

Forgive the snark.  It's probably a perfectly lovely video series that has benefitted many a child hoping to learn Spanish.  The problem is that it is marketed to parents who want their kids to learn Spanish as a means to an entirely different end.  I fear that this is what we have come to in this country -- a society seeking stepping stones under every potentially pedagogical rock.  Instead of guiding children towards their interests, materials such as this propel them towards a series of rubrics that must be met.  

It's sad.

I started learning Spanish in elementary school because I aspired to be the Queen of Mexico when I grew up, and I figured I should know how to speak to my people (true story).  My summer school Spanish teachers cheered me on towards this goal (I realize now, looking back through adult lenses, that they probably thought I was pretty quirky and precocious).  At that time, at least in elementary school, there were no standards to be met for foreign languages.  I was free to learn simply because I wanted to learn.  And I did learn.  I learned it well, relied on it during many trips to Mexico, spoke it constantly the year I did my internship in Chile, and use it today to communicate with friends from Spanish-speaking countries (recently, I even used it to communicate with a friend from Ethiopia who speaks better Spanish than English).

I often wonder what might have happened had a teacher told me that s/he was glad I was learning Spanish because it would surely help me to "outperform other kids on standardized tests."  Given my fear of competition back then, I am guessing I'd have dumped my dream of ever becoming the Queen of Mexico -- and I'd have had far fewer rich experiences and wonderful friends.

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