Currently, there are about 350 languages spoken in homes in the United States of America. Immigrant families in the U.S. speak as many as 200 languages from around the world. Another 150 languages are spoken by Native American families. Many families are “bilingual,” “emergent bilingual” or even “multi-lingual.” Such labels are honored distinctions of accomplishment as the world population continues to intertwine recreationally, economically and geographically. And as we become an increasingly diverse society, the mastery of any second (or third or fourth…) language actually more than doubles a person’s value to communities, appeal to college recruiters and potential for a growing number of employers.
During my many years of schooling, I studied three different languages, none of which I can speak with any fluency today. I am therefore humbled by those who fluently speak two or more languages on a regular basis. THOSE people are the glue that can hold this world together!
My duties at Unite for Literacy include recruiting generous souls who are bilingual in English and some other language (or languages) to help us extend our digital book collection’s contributions into all of the homes in the world. We currently reach 98 percent of U.S. households to one degree or another, and that’s with only 37 languages in our library’s narration list…including English of course.
Typically, our volunteer narrators and translators are busy people, often with school-aged children, who upon discovering what we do, determine to add their heritage language to our library to extend its value to children in their Native American or homeland cultures. Their book narrations and translations also become valuable tools in parents’ efforts to rear their children to be fully multi-lingual. We are delighted to partner in this endeavor—our duty being the promise to make our books freely available to children in their homes and schools, 24/7, and by extension, to another language community somewhere in the U.S. or the world.
Our book audience is children age birth through 8 years. Sometimes our books are used to help new American families with members of all ages learn English. And often our books are used in reverse; they offer English speaking students of other languages a way to practice their nascent linguistic skills.
NONE of that could be possible, however, without help from our cadre of volunteer linguists. But our volunteers are in high demand! Increasingly, they are being called upon to assist schools in communicating and partnering with families whose first language in not English.
So it seems to me that we must support our schools in doubling down on bilingual and language education for all children who will be our linguists of tomorrow and the new glue in an even more connected world—one I hope is ever more productive and peaceful.