A couple of weeks ago I pulled up the drive, and as I came to a stop my 3-year-old said something which caught my attention.
I turned around prepared to scold her. I thought for sure she had called me an unkind — and off-limits — word. It wouldn’t have been the first time she called me a donkey-hole, and it likely wouldn’t have been the last.
So as to be sure I hadn’t misheard, I asked her to repeat herself. She did, but I noticed she was pointing at something.
There in the floor of the vehicle was a blue shirt. I had done nothing recently to deserve being called a donkey-hole, so now I understood.
“Azul,” she said.
I have an admission. I have lied in this weekly column before. I know a little more Spanish than, “Mas cervesa, por favor?” For those who don’t know Spanish, that’s a basic phrase necessary for survival should the bartender in whatever country in which you find yourself only speak Spanish.
I lied. I know more than that. I can count to ten. I know the days of the week and the months of the year. Usually, after a week or so in Mexico, Puerto Rico or another Spanish-speaking place I can even converse a little in the language.
I know enough Spanish to know azul means blue. Turns out I wasn’t a donkey-hole that day.
That night, we spent about an hour playing a game in which I would say “rojo” or “amarillo” or any other color. She would then retrieve an object of that color.
I thought this was amazing. She is 3, and she’s learning two languages.
It turns out her daycare center isn’t as ahead of the curve as I thought it to be. A couple weeks later I read a story about the Mount Airy City Schools’ Spanish immersion program.
As I understand it, the youngest of children are placed in a classroom in which the only language used is Spanish. Slowly, children are scaled out of the Spanish-speaking environment and back into a blended Spanish/English environment.
It’s brilliant. The brains of young children are especially capable of learning language. The old way used to be wait until your kid had outgrown this ability, then try to teach Spanish in the high school years.
Now, kids learn conversational Spanish at school while their brains are still apt to retain it. Of course, they don’t forget English. They continue to fine tune their conversational skills in English at home.
The Surry County Schools also teach kids Spanish at young ages, though county school students only get one lesson in it a week in grades kindergarten through five. It’s the same concept though — introduce it at a young age.
We pay our school employees to prepare our children for the future, and an ability to speak Spanish will be something which improves the ability of today’s child to compete in tomorrow’s world.
I’ll preface this by noting I believe every American should be able to converse in English. That stated, nobody cares what I think. The reality is more and more Spanish-speaking folks are finding their way to America — even to North Carolina.
According to one scholarly article I dug up, the Hispanic population has grown from 77,726 in 1990 to 517,617 in 2005 in our state, a growth of more than 600 percent in 15 years.
It will be 15 years until Autumn hits adulthood. I hope she opts to pursue higher education or learn a skill or trade, but she might go directly into the workforce.
A quick sift through Indeed.com turns up many jobs which either require or prefer a candidate who can speak Spanish and English.
In the town of Dobson, employees who can speak Spanish are given a bonus. The bilingual employee there does everything from helping police officers interview subjects to conversing with Spanish-speaking water customers.
The point is being successful in the world is all about increasing your value. It can be done through many different means, such as education and skills. However, one thing is certain. In a world with a growing number of Spanish-speaking citizens, knowing both languages increases a person’s net worth — especially 15 years from now.
Teaching that language at such a young age isn’t about appeasing any group or being politically correct. If you believe that, you’ve bought into the thoughtless babbling of a billionaire.
It’s all about preparing Autumn and the rest of her generation for a future in which the language is used more often. The simple reality is in her future more of those job descriptions are going read “bilingual preferred” or “bilingual required.”
If you can’t see that an ability to speak Spanish increases a person’s ability to find suitable employment when the next generation hits the real world, your head is in the sand — or some place much stinkier.
I don’t do it often, but I applaud our school systems for the leadership they’re showing in this area.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.