I’ve noticed—as I struggle through class participation and oral exams—that the people who most easily pick up the oral aspect of Japanese are the people who already know another language: for example, the bilingual girl from a Spanish-speaking background or the Chinese students who speak perfect English. Maybe it’s because their brains are already adapted to switching between languages. But I don’t know; I’m not a psychologist.
Sometimes I wonder if my own difficulties with speaking Japanese can be traced back to my high school education instead. I took Latin for six years before switching to Japanese at UD, a language virtually without an oral component. But I think my main problem is not learning any language from a young age.
At this point, I’m pushing through Japanese so I can just reach the rumored “breaking point” at which the skills involved in learning a language are perfected, and the only obstacle to fluency is not knowing enough vocabulary. Getting to that point will make it easier to learn more languages, so I can finally add Russian to my language repertoire.
But I’m convinced that if I knew a second language as a child, it would have been easier to pick up more. For this reason, I’m an advocate of elementary language education. However, barring a drastic transformation of the national education system, it seems like it’s on parents to educate their own children. For this reason, not only do I admire UD’s language requirement, I embrace it.
It may be difficult to learn a language in college. Sometimes it may not feel worth it. But there really isn’t a downside to more children being bilingual, and the easiest way to ensure it is to educate college-aged students to prepare them to become fluent in a second language. That way, they can speak both languages at home to teach their children to be bilingual. And knowing more than one language, especially in the United States, can open an infinite number of doors.