Embracing New Languages

Just wanted to track back to a fantastic post over at Anti-Racist Parent about learning new languages. For years now, I've been telling myself that I'd brush up on my Spanish and actually learn enough Tagalog (not just the swear words that I know!), but just haven't done it. Well, it's at the point where my older child can out-Tagalog me, and my younger one is catching up to my Spanish quickly!

It's an interesting perspective to embrace learning a new language as a way to work towards anti-racism. If we learn other languages, does it give us a new appreciation for how difficult it is to learn English? For the beauty and sounds of cultures other than our own?

My older child is just learning to read. And, on a long car ride the other day, she passed the time by reading a Grade 1 Reader out loud. As she sounded out words, I tried to tell her some of the "rules" of the English language -- like what certain letters sounded like when put together, etc. But, no sooner did she just understand what those combinations were, a new word that completely didn't follow those rules came up. I saw my child getting very frustrated, and I found myself getting impatient, too.

How the heck is someone supposed to learn this stuff??? I know we all did - eventually. But, for goodness sake! Imagine having to learn English, work full time, take care of children, have people get impatient with you when you are actually trying to practice, and worry about getting it all wrong?

As an anti-racist and a child of immigrants, I've never uttered the words, "You're in America.. speak English!" But, how often do we English speakers ever learn another language? Geographically, we sort of don't need to. I can drive thousands of miles and still expect that everyone will speak the same language as I do. And, if they don't, I can expect to be "right" ... because... I'm... in... America. But, is that right? In a country built upon the backs of immigrants, how can we continue to exist as an English-only hierarchy - especially when so few people actually use proper English?

I grew up in a multilingual house (yes, somehow I still only picked up the swear words), and so the beauty of languages have always felt like home to me. I rarely have trouble understanding even the thickest of accents -- be they Asian, Nigerian, Spanish, or even Southern. My ears pick up the subtle lack of "F" sounds in Pilipino. I can easily distinguish a Nigerian accent from an accent spoken by someone from Ghana. Yet, I can barely utter any of their native tongues.

So, my question really goes back to: Do we have to learn the languages or simply expose ourselves to the beauty of other languages?