Growing up in a multilingual family has definitely influenced me and those around me that other children who aren’t multilingual don’t experience. English is actually not my mother tongue. I have learned to speak Gujarati since the day I was born and as I grew up I was constantly immersed in the language…
I love being bilingual. I love being able to speak another language to my family when I’m not comfortable speaking in English. It’s a sense of security that I don’t think other non-multilingual people will understand. Not only that, I can communicate much more freely with my elderly relatives who don’t speak or understand English. Language is the bridge that connects me, a first generation child in America, to my family and it helps me to learn more and more about them every day and vice versa.
— Rahi, Block 2 of Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
Greater opportunities for expression
It often happens that you can’t think of the right word in one language, but you can in the other. For example, when I’m so embarrassed that it’s impossible to describe in English how strong I’m feeling, the only words I can think of are “Jjok palyuh,” which translates to “My face is sold” in Korean . …
Having been in the American school system for nearly 11 years, English has become second nature to me, and the true testament to that is the fact that my mind is in English. Although I speak Korean with my parents, I see the world through the lens of an English speaker. Like the family in the article, my family sometimes speaks one language but uses a word or two from another language in the same sentence because it’s easier. And THAT is what makes being bilingual so amazing. Oral language is art; it flows from the tongue and moves like music. Our mind is the brush that speaks through the canvas, and a different language creates a whole new color palette.
— Teak, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC
The challenges of knowing multiple languages
Multilingualism has many disadvantages and challenges. Whenever I’m around my mom and we talk in Spanish, a lot of people look at each other funny or talk about us and make rude remarks. Challenges include sometimes forgetting to switch back to English or having a lot of people try to get me to teach them Spanish. Many strangers, when they find out that I am multilingual, ask me where I come from or how much I know about my origins. They also ask me why I’m white when my mother is from Cuba and sometimes it’s very overwhelming when everyone asks me about it.
— Kilee, Hannover-Horton-Gymnasium
My parents are from Bangladesh so Bengali was the first language I learned. Yes, it’s nice to be bilingual and know how to speak two different languages, especially my mother tongue, but learning English as a second language presented me with some difficulties in my early childhood. When I went to preschool, I always confused my words with Bengali, and I found it difficult to learn English and to speak with other children and my teacher. They ended up putting me in ESL from kindergarten through 3rd grade, even though I didn’t really know what it meant to be so young in that grade. Looking back, I wish I had learned English first, which would have helped me overcome the barriers of my difficulties in English and grammar, and then slowly learned Bengali as I get older.
— Emily, Hoggard High School in Wilmington NC
Promote multilingualism in schools
I think knowing another language is extremely important and students should start learning it earlier. It is incomprehensible that the pupils in primary school are not even offered foreign language lessons or even extracurricular activities. When kids start learning a language seriously by the age of 12, do they really become fluent? Maybe yes, maybe no, but ultimately it’s a lot harder to become fluent in a language when you’re learning it with an almost fully developed brain revolving around different concerns and goals. I love learning Italian and plan on becoming fluent, but I wish I had started learning it in 1st or 2nd grade so I was mostly immersed in the language now. Learning a language at school can be extremely useful in terms of life skills, but with the way the education system operates, not many students will take their world language classes seriously.
— Christina, WT Clarke High School, Westbury