Bilingualism in our society: thoughts of a teacher of Spanish as a foreign language

28 February, 2011

Currently, the society in which we live is starting to seriously worry about the lack of languages we possess to communicate with the rest of the world. For this reason, initiatives are starting to be introduced to encourage people to learn a second language in order for the countries to have a strong academic and professional future.

But when it comes to actually learning languages, lots of questions arise over what is the best age for starting to learn a second language, how many hours a week you should study it for and so on and so forth. Many more questions can also be raised in relation to how to reach absolute bilingualism.

Nowadays, the majority of educators agree upon the fact that we should start learning languages as early as possible to make the process easier and also faster. Until the end of the 20th century, foreign language teaching began during adolescence or a little bit before, which has led to the current low level of linguistic competence that we currently have here in Spain in comparison to other countries. We also demonstrate a certain delay both in the working environment as well as in the teaching world.

During the last decade, teaching concepts have been changing to prioritise teaching languages from an earlier age. This means that now language learning will start during primary education, around the age of two or three, since it is now known that small children can learn a language subconsciously, even if they haven’t yet mastered their mother tongue. This is in contrast to adults and adolescents learning languages, who take longer to learn new concepts.

The ability to master a foreign language, both orally and in writing, is presented to us as an arduous task since it is not something that happens immediately but rather something that occurs over a longer period of time. It is also something that not all students manage to achieve since they don’t have the patience or the willingness to follow their studies if they don’t see immediate gain.

It can be asserted that learning a language is no simple task but the only logical way of learning a second language is to immerse yourself in it and use it assiduously. Nobody learns to speak a language just by employing the basic grammatical rules, which are what is usually taught in schools and language centres. However, luckily, this tendency is changing and language teaching is finally becoming more active and less passive; in other words, more communicative.

In conclusion, in spite of the fact that it can seem problematic teaching children to speak another language from a young age – an additional language to their mother tongue- many children all over the world grow up acquiring two or more languages at the same time. These children have never showed signs of slowed language development, nor problems with learning but rather, they have become more receptive and imaginative people when it comes to solving tricky communication problems and speaking about issues that occur in our daily life. What is certain is that the majority of educators insist that the sooner you start learning a language, the better you can acquire it and become a true bilingual.

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