Friday, October 25, 2019

Branching out from English only

Branching out from English only Language My husband and I have passed the halfway point of our European adventure. I am actually trying to write this on my little tablet on a high speed train from Milan to Rome. Sandy will give it a quick glance to make sure that there are no egregious grammatical errors, but do forgive any typos. For the past few weeks we have been in cities where we have been surrounded by many foreign languages. It is easy and almost embarrassing to get along speaking nothing but English. Indeed, so far we have had zero issues. It was never my intent to be the entitled American who simply expected to be understood. In fact I have the Google translator at the ready on my phone. I have attempted to learn phrases such as, "Good morning", "Where is the nearest bathroom?" " Thank-you" and "I am a vegetarian" in multiple languages. The fact that everyone we have encountered thus far easily speaks multiple languages is striking. The only trouble I have had so far ironically, is in Scotland where the thick brogue was sometimes tricky to decipher. I think that most of us have been in the awkward situation where we can't understand someone. Many times we can bluff through it. That wasn't the case when I was trying to figure out where exactly we needed to change trains on our way from Glasgow up to Inverness. After several attempts that I clearly wasn't understanding, the station agent patiently helped me out… "Stirling, like the castle" …."AhAh, got it, thank you". Trust me, what I had heard sounded nothing like Stirling. Now that we are in Italy, we are for the first time finding ourselves in situations where we have faced some very minor challenges when dealing with a foreign language. When we bought breakfast items at a little market, we weren't completely certain what we would end up pouring into our cereal. Fortunately it was actually the milk we were hoping for. Most folks do speak some English, but it is not as automatic or fluent as we found in the Netherlands or Belgium. The whole language thing got me thinking. People are people. We all have commonalities as well as differences. When folks find the things we have in common, bonds are formed. It is lovely. When instead we focus on our differences, history shows us how it is sadly human nature to become tribal, and often conflicts arise. In order to connect with others communication is essential. Language differences can present a huge barrier. In Europe it is the norm for most people to be fluent in multiple languages. I am not talking about being simply bilingual. Easily being comfortable in four or more languages or dialects is not uncommon. How is this possible that the vast majority are multilingual? They simply make it a practice to teach kids more than one language from the start. The science is actually quite clear on this. When young children are learning to speak, their brains are in the most active phase that they will ever be in. Learning multiple languages at a young age opens up pathways in the brain that make it much easier to process all of the information. A recent MIT study found that up until the age of 10, the developing brain has a much easier time with language. The ease with how most people learn a new language starts to slow as we age. Folks under 18 still have an easier time than adults. It is true that my patients who are exposed to more than one language might be a little slower with their initial speech, but who cares! What a gift. So what can we do to take advantage of this fertile brain? Does a parent, grandparent or nanny speak a different language? Expose the baby to more than one language as much as you can. Maybe take this opportunity to try to learn a new language yourself. There are amazing programs out there like Rosetta Stone (BTW, seeing the actual Rosetta stone in the British museum was amazing! Talk about history being brought to life!) Communication and connecting to others is such a positive thing. Take advantage of the amazing young brains! As a bonus, kids can often learn to read music when you expose them to this skill young. Sign language is another thing to consider early. In the meantime, I will continue my adventure. We are only planning our trip just a few days in advance, so we are not quite sure where else we will end up. So far we have balanced gorgeous natural beauty including the Isle of skye in Scotland, and the amazing alps in Switzerland, with history and art in other amazing cities. I hope this post finds you all enjoying a nice and healthy autumn. If I find myself feeling creative on another train ride I may try to do another post. If not I will be back in touch in early November with an updated class schedule. Ciao e stammi bene,