By Anya Kamenetz
Part of our ongoing series exploring how the U.S. can educate the nearly 5 million students who are learning English.
Brains, brains, brains. One thing we’ve learned at NPR Ed is that people […]
For many years the US actively encouraged new immigrants to drop their native language. I can imagine how much damage was done to children by well-meaning parents who tried to raise them in a language that was not their own, all in a misguided (but entirely understandable) effort to help them integrate.
I learnt a second language later in life and struggled mightily to do so. However I have been fascinated to watch my wife’s grand-daughter, now 10 years old and fluently trilingual, switch effortlessly and seamlessly between languages without even stopping to think. She associates different languages to different people to such a degree that, even when I try to speak to her in Spanish she will often reply in English without thinking, because it’s more natural to her when speaking to me. I am in awe at the capacity of the brain, at such an early age to master this complex task so easily. While I battle to remember whether to use the subjunctive or not, she just speaks, naturally and organically, as if it were nothing. I was a little humbled though when she asked one day, “Mom, why does John speak such funny Spanish” 🙂