By Brett Ashley Hawkins
With greater frequency in the ever-expanding global marketplace, the knowledge of a second language grants an edge to applicants seeking employment or higher education. Knowing a language in addition to English increases an individual’s versatility in the workplace and provides college applications with flair.
The Long Beach Unified School District currently offers Spanish at many of its middle schools and French, German, Japanese, and Chinese, along with Spanish, at the high-school level.
Michelle Huynh, a third-year student at the University of Southern California, took Spanish at both Hughes Middle School and Long Beach Polytechnic High School, finishing her senior year at an Advanced Placement (AP) level. “I wholeheartedly endorse learning new languages because not only is the skill practical in our progressively globalized world, it promotes an appreciation of other’s language and culture,” she said, alluding to her instructors’ strategies of imbuing the culture and tradition in the courses as opposed to strictly relying on textbooks, handouts, and pure memorization.
Sergio Piña, a second-grade teacher at Addams Elementary, echoes Huynh’s sentiments on the proper way to learn a foreign language. “Teachers need to integrate the arts and culture through a lot of hands-on activities and visuals,” he said. “There has to be a balance between interaction and reading. It also helps kinesthetic learners.”
Piña spent his early childhood living in the United States and then moved to Mexico for two years before returning to the States. He admits that he had forgotten how to speak English during his time in Mexico and he had to repeat a grade level he had previously completed in this country. “I had to go to special English Language Development (ELD) sessions after school,” he said, adding that it didn’t take him too long to re-familiarize himself with the language.
Helping to prepare children here for a more bilingual world in the future, Lakewood resident Amy Berger recently initiated weekly Spanish conversation classes for students at elementary and middle-school levels. “I recalled how valuable my own Spanish skills have been to my professional career and wanted my child to get a head start,” said Berger, who believes that knowing a second language will help her daughter and other children pave their ways to success. Berger’s background with the language includes a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from University of California, Berkeley, and a graduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her co-instructors have degrees from California State University, Long Beach, and the Instituto Technologico de Sonora in Mexico.
Berger prides herself in involving music and art projects in her lessons. With her classes ongoing through 2011, her next project is a Spanish Conversation Winter Camp from Dec. 20 to Dec. 23 in Lakewood, which will feature holiday-oriented vocabulary lessons, as well as cultural art projects and music from Central and South America.
Learning other languages may help students to embrace other cultures and familiarize themselves with lifestyles other than “the American Way.” “I think that learning a new language is essential to understanding that culture. You can derive so much from a culture if you look closely at the nuances and subtleties of the language,” Huynh said. “For example, in Vietnamese, you always refer to someone else in terms of their relation to you. You would refer to an older male as your older brother– it reflects a sense of hierarchy and commitment to one’s role.” An immigrant born in Saigon, Vietnam, Huynh learned Vietnamese first, then English, which necessitated her balancing Vietnamese and American ways of life. She took on Spanish several years later.
Having learned a second language rather easily in her early years, Huynh feels that children 6 to 10 years old absorb a new language more successfully than older learners, but feels that it’s never too late to become bilingual. “As long as you are committed, I think you can always learn something new,” she said. “Learning is definitely a life-long process.” She also encourages anyone with the resources to attempt to seek the knowledge a new language has to offer. “As an immigrant, I believe those who have the opportunity to learn a new language need to take full advantage of it because not everyone has that chance,” she said.
Piña agrees with Huynh’s assessment that, when it comes to tackling a new language, the earlier, the better. “It’s easier for them to learn at a younger age,” he said. “Younger kids absorb it like a sponge and can learn languages simultaneously.”
Both of their judgments fall right in line with Berger’s vision for her students to learn at younger age levels to create the most impact mentally and culturally.
To see what bilingual education opportunities are available locally, call LBUSD at (562) 997-8000, or contact Berger at (562) 833-3115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.