Letter: Woods column sends wrong message about language

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As a linguist, life-long language learner, and someone who promotes foreign language learning, I would like to respond to Steve Woods’ recent column about Chinese in a recent issue of The Forecaster (“Intentionally Unreasonable: A new world view, made in China,” Oct. 12), written as a letter to his children.

The economic viability of certain languages other than English waxes and wanes. However, what is certain is that early exposure to any second language is better than none at all, and research shows that people who have exposure to a second language early enhance their abilities to learn additional languages later in life. They are better learners; they recognize and distinguish non-English sounds more easily; they may eventually end up with a better ability to control their mental airspace, as bilinguals have been shown to have.

In his column, Woods seemed to be denigrating his children for their language choices. He wrote: “Yes, Cammy, I know that you’re enjoying studying French this year, and for you Zack, Latin is the liveliest dead language you’ve ever encountered. But while both those languages well represent the past, China is the future.”

This is precisely the wrong message to be sending American youth interested in foreign languages. He should have written, “Cammy and Zack, I’m proud that you’re interested in linguistic explorations beyond English, and the cognitive skills and learning practice you get from studying French and Latin will serve you well when you can learn another language that will serve you well: Chinese.”

Michael Erard
South Portland