Ni hao

July 23, 2008

Pronounced nee-Ha-OW. It means “hello” in Chinese.

Maybe it’s a well-kept secret, but literate bilingual learners consistently outperform monolingual learners. Not only that, but they more easily adapt to various social situations and their cognitive development is greater.

From Gen Y on, they will need to be bilingual in order to keep up in this shrinking global community.  I think that was the intent of Obama’s statement about people needing to learn to speak Spanish. It’s been a while since I lived in the Chicago area, but there was a significant Hispanic population. The area where I live now has a significant Hispanic population. I wish that I remembered my high school Spanish. Other than “Hola Isabel, como estas” it’s pretty non-existent.

The argument “but they (immigrants) need to learn English” – I agree. What makes you think that they aren’t? The older we get though, it can be a little more challenging. You want your kids to do better than you, right? We all do. Encourage them. It doesn’t have to be Spanish. Learn Japanese, Chinese, Russian, German. I’ve been told that once you learn a language other than your own, it becomes easier to learn more. Is it Stephanie Powers that speaks 6 different languages? I can’t remember.

I read a poem in Spanish one day to my students. I warned them ahead of time that I’m sure I’d mess up. Mess up I did. And some of my ESL students laughed the rest of the day at my gaffes. But, the appreciated the effort, and they worked with me – teaching me the correct pronunciations. It was a powerful moment for all of my class. They learned that it was ok to make mistakes, and that all of us can learn from each other.

So, don’t jump on Obama for the learning Spanish comment. Appreciate the fact that we have a statesman who recognizes the reality of what’s down the road.

Mpaka baadaye,



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