We asked the following question to readers on social media and the Public Insight Network recently: How important is it for children to learn a language in school? Thanks for all of your responses. Below is a sampling of your comments, some of which were edited for length and clarity. Learn more about the Public Insight Network and comment on previous discussions at MiamiHerald.com/community and select Community Conversations.
Jessica Knopf, Miami
First, classes are too short in length. Learning a language means consistency is necessary. Instead of 30 minutes three times a week, 45 minutes every day is better. Second, stop trying to teach kids social studies and math in another language. This really impairs the ability to master English, especially for those whose first language isn’t English. Keep the second language being learned, but don’t incorporate it into other subjects because it confuses them. Third, make sure students are able to make presentations and complete projects in the second language. … In other words, take it to the next level and not just rudimentary understanding.
Lulu Parker, Miami
I believe that children who live in a household that speaks another language other than English, be it Spanish, French (which was the first language in my family), Creole, etc., should be encouraged to continue to study in that language, including reading as well as speech. Like many Hispanics, Canadian French are predominately Catholic. I grew up at a time when the Mass was celebrated in Latin and the homily in French, exposing me to foreign languages very young. However, it was a rather colloquial, fractured French. Nonetheless, once one has been exposed and has acquired a new language, it’s easier to learn another, particularly a Romance language. One also gains confidence and is less self-conscious articulating and exploring different sounds. Thus bilingualism should be encouraged.
Rachel Lebon, Miami
Vital. Especially if you live in a hub for other international markets like Miami, New York or Los Angeles. Besides, the world is now multicultural, connected, global. It’s not only important to have another language, but also know other cultures and idiosyncrasies. Our daughter is lucky to attend an excellent multicultural and bilingual school like Sunset Elementary (Spanish Magnet Program). They are doing a fantastic job at it. The key is working together as a team. They do their part, we do ours at home. It’s a very demanding program that works only if parents are actively involved.
Adela Gondelels-Sardinas, Miami
Very important! It is the best time for them to learn it because it is less difficult than in adulthood. We all know that. I think in Miami, where so many Spanish-speaking people live here from different Spanish-speaking countries, schools have to be careful in choosing who teaches Spanish.
Mercedes Bianchi, Miami Beach
It is very important especially living here in South Florida. We need to teach a second language to young kids. The younger the better. I’m not surprised that Dade county is having a difficult time finding Spanish teachers. Just because someone grows up in Dade county does not mean they speak Spanish well. Spanglish is nothing to be proud of. It is embarrassing that even newscasters mess up the Spanish language. I think Spanish needs to be taught to both non-Spanish speakers and those who come from Spanish households because they also need formal instruction.
Patty De Biase, Weston
It is critical to the economy of South Florida. The old joke about “what do you call a person who only speaks one language — an American” unfortunately applies in this case. How can we be called the “Gateway to the Americas” when our workforce cannot read and write in Spanish? This shouldn’t even be getting press because the school system should be requiring and funding classes in some foreign language (there are others of value besides Spanish).
Mario Coryell, Miami Beach
Addressing this question in Miami is slightly different than applying it to the country as a whole. It is essential in the 21st century to learn a foreign language, probably even more than one. There is no substitute for the formal learning that school courses and certified teachers of a language provide. … Technically in Miami one can learn Spanish through various out-of-school means. Pretty much any business, Hispanic family or local TV and radio show uses at least some Spanish. And conversation is essential. But the rest of the country does not have such a strong emphasis on Spanish so if a foreign language requirement isn’t in place, students will be hard pressed to learn a second language well.
Mark Elman, Miami
Vitally important. The world is shrinking fast and Miami is becoming a very important global business and recreation center. Our children must learn to communicate with people from all over the world. I have seen the children in Europe and China learning English, but they are not learning conversational English. Our children need to learn conversational skills to be able to conduct business as well as be comfortable in an increasingly global community.
Christopher Zoller, Coral Gables
Miami’s primary strength is as the hub of the Hispanic world, and I think that it is unavoidable that young people know how to speak Spanish if they want to live and work here. Having said that, I don’t think that the grade school or high school classroom is the best place to learn it. Language learning requires much more immersion than an hour a few times a week. I went through that with German and Spanish when I was young and got nowhere. I learned French through immersion courses where we would interact with other young people and a coach for prolonged periods. How about language camp in addition to soccer and art?
John Des Jardins, Sunny Isles Beach