I’ve (she) always had an interest in the French language. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s spoken all around the world: even places like Europe, Canada, and Africa. Having had a great French teacher in high school, my interest always remained and I continued on through college. He, on the other hand, had a Dad who was fluent in Spanish and taught people english, and was able to learn through him. However, it isn’t until we are now living abroad that we realize the value of knowing more than one language. In fact, it’s crucial and necessary to do so. Regardless of what the language is, even the process and discipline of learning a language is important. Simple things like being able to greet someone, ask for directions, order food, get help in the event of an emergency, and make purchases can make all the difference when traveling…and it’s important to be able to communicate in the culture and locale of which you are a part.
My (she) advice, particularly now as a parent, is to not discourage your child from learning any language. Unfortunately, if I had ample support and encouragement to learn French as well as I wanted to, I would be more conversational by now and it would have opened up a world of new career engagements for me. Lesson learned. I was often told that French wasn’t the language to learn and that Spanish was better (for no reason other than what was popular at the time in the U.S.). And as I look back on it, those types of comments were often relayed by ones who don’t even speak another language nor travel much themselves. The moral: Do what you know will be best for you and unless the advice is coming from others with the know-how, respectfully proceed.
Now, we are excited to see the new generation being explorative and daring – reaching new heights and maintaining an openness to culture and new experiences that are necessary in a global world. Our nephew met us in Senegal and his French is fantastic. He’s getting confident and improving by being immersed in academic settings that encourage his growth – such is great and supported by his parents, and we can definitely learn from it. That is what we wish for our own children – that they gain experiences that can only benefit them.
What is the harm in learning one language over another? The harm is that you’ll end up like me (she) with not speaking any well at a time when I would be comfortable in conversation. Any language, and any learning, that they come across can, again, only benefit them…can only benefit us. We already see that our experience abroad is shaping our third culture kids in ways we could have only dreamed of. And we are ready to continue allowing their minds and interests to explore, regardless of what language(s) they may end up learning.