“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ― Plutarch
From an early age, I learned the importance of education. It began when I was a 3-year-old American girl, thrown into a French world, with no safety net to catch me. Scary, yes, but I would never take back the challenges and experiences of growing up bilingual in the U.S.
Our most recent Census and statistical websites, tell us that a majority of residents of the U.S. only speak English, unless they have recently immigrated to the U.S. from a non-English speaking country. If we look at other countries, we can see that averages of bilingual individuals is much higher. That being said, we know many individuals in Europe or Central America speak more than one language because their countries are much smaller. But does that mean that we have no obligation to be diverse as well? Check out this article from the New York Times on bilingual education.
So many American children grow up without ever learning another language, and I feel that is unfortunate. Maybe they had a one hour language class during the day in middle school or high school, but how much can a child take away from that one hour? From talks with my friends and even some of my own experiences, much of our schooling is just going through the motions to get to the next class year. We do our homework just to get it over with, and study really hard right before exams to then forget most of what we have learned. How can diversity and an appreciation of education blossom from just going through the motions?
We are not French, and my parents do not speak French. My parents decided to send me and my sister to a French immersion school in Chicago called, Lycee Francais De Chicago. (There are many of these schools across the U.S. and for different languages.) We had yet to go to France, but I felt like I had already lived there my entire life.
There were so many things that differed from my life to the life of an average American girl, but that it what made me and my sister independent, appreciative of education and eager to learn more.
The first day of school I knew nothing. I would point to an object and the teacher would tell me what it was in French. It was as if I was a small baby learning my native language, English, all over again. I got the hang of it real quick, because I needed to in order to function in this unique space. We spent 6 hours a day speaking French, reading French books, and assimilating to French culture, accompanied by one hour per day was for English class. My mom, an English teacher, would also make me and my sister read an American book one hour per day after school so we got a little bit of everything.
My lifestyle, friends, culture, was inside my school –– not at home or Americanized at all, yet I identified with both cultures. I did feel closer to the one that my education revolved around which I find unique.
At times it was difficult for me to grasp that this was what my parents had chosen for me. My sister and I only had each other when it came to doing homework and understanding cultural differences. But this is what is so great about my experience now –– I see the importance of education in ways that I believe would have taken me much longer to recognize. I see that education can be what you make of it and that anyone can shape their learning experiences.
When parents introduce their children to a unique experience such as the one I had, their children will be able to appreciate the world through a different lens. Through the gift of bilingual education, your child will have a great appreciation of self-discovery and exploration.
This experience of mine will always be in my thoughts when I am faced with challenges and new experiences. I want to learn because I know what can come of it. I have learned Latin, Hebrew and Thai since my time at the French school. I see my education more than going through the motions in order to graduate –– I see it as bunch of little opportunities helping me accomplish my ambitions.
I believe the importance of education and especially a bilingual education, would have taken me much longer to recognize, if it were not for the decision of my parents. As a college student, soon to graduate, I believe all parents should involve their children in different forms of education and self-exploration.
Speaking another language is more than being able to read the menu at a French restaurant to impress your family, it is being able to live and breath another culture. It is about tackling challenges and progressing self-exploration. Speaking another language will inspire you to travel, meet new people, and step outside of your boundaries. It is more than a resume builder, it is who you are.
Check out these websites for more information on bilingual schooling and language programs. Be more than ordinary, be extraordinary.
Lycee Francais De New York, Lycee Francais De Los Angeles, Denver Montclair International School –– Mandarin Chinese, Spanish & French, International School of Arizona –– French and Spanish, or just type your state into your search engine followed by bilingual education.
Lindsay Friedman is a senior studying environmental science and sustainable development at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is an intern at elephant journal and has a part time job at The Fitter. She is also a leader of a local food campaign on campus called CU Going Local. She is a true Chicagoan turned mountain girl. Follow her on twitter, Laine0315.
Photo Credit: The Adventures of Kristen & Adam