Arizona Daily Star
May 28, 2008


Learning new languages expands minds
Story and photos by Alexandria Whitehead
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/related/240308
From the time I was 10, I've wanted to learn French. When I started at Tucson High Magnet School last fall, I was excited to finally have my chance. As I walked into my first French class — the last period of the day — my palms were sweaty from how nervous I was. I had waited 14 years for this opportunity, and I didn't want to mess up.
I wasn't able to learn French earlier because private lessons were much too expensive for my low-income family, and my parents and I were not aware of any other options. I depended on the public school system to teach me French, and that meant waiting until I was in high school.
Little did I know that the International School of Tucson is available for kids ages 3-11 to learn another language before they get to high school. In many cases, the students at the International School come from bilingual homes. But some of the children who attend were like me when I was younger — just curious about other languages and cultures. The interviews and photos here are a peek into what it's like to speak a foreign language as effortlessly as it is to breathe or walk.
Children tend to acquire languages faster and have better chances of attaining more fluency the earlier they are able to begin learning a second language, said Robert Young, head of the International School.
There are also widespread benefits of learning multiple languages early in life: language learning can make youth more globally conscious and aware of other cultures. Global understanding may not seem important in elementary and middle school, but I think what children learn at a young age forms a foundation of their personal outlook for the rest of their lives.
In January 2006, President Bush introduced a program called the National Security Language Initiative to teach K-12 students languages that are increasingly important in world business and diplomacy: Arabic, Chinese, Persian, Hindi and Central Asian languages.
While French isn't on this list, children should have the opportunity to learn a second language while they are in elementary and middle school. If I had my way, every elementary school in Tucson, regardless of its location or budget, would pick up on the need for early language instruction.
Learning a new language is like asking for a new lifestyle: even if you allow yourself to learn new things, you still need people and resources to teach you.