The Language of Life: Life advantages from multilingualism

Source: Herald Online

By Angela Jackson

I recently sat on a panel about Multiculturalism, International Education and Career Paths in the Professional World at the Lycee Francaise in New York City. While the focus of the panel was on the value that international students bring to U.S. campuses with their diverse language skills and cultural backgrounds, the focus quickly shifted to American students and the fact that our universities are graduating American students in the masses who lack these skills.

As the panel wrapped up, the topic turned to U.S. students and how the vast majority of U.S. colleges graduate American monolingual students, proficient in English only, while conversely, many international students are graduating with a high proficiency in their native language, English, and many times a third language.

Valerie Chapoulaud-Floquet, Louis Vuitton president and CEO of the Americas, was one of my co-panelists. She commented on how the resumes she receives from new graduates from around the world demonstrate that not only have many of these international new grads lived abroad and speak three or more languages currently, but they have also had intern work experiences, AND in different countries! She admitted that when comparing herself to this new generation of multicultural student, that she would have had a challenge stacking up to them.

As parents, we are preparing our children today for tomorrow’s opportunities. We know that as the world grows smaller, communication has always been and will continue to be a critical part of our children’s pathways to success. When I think of my children’s future, I picture them as having friends from different backgrounds and ethnicities and being able to communicate with them in a deeper way and in many languages. My dream is that my child will have the opportunity to travel the world and truly get to know the people who live there, meeting them where they are, in their world, in their language.

Another one of my co-panelists was Panetta Ott, director of admissions at Brown University, who shared that when she encounters students who have traveled and speak other languages she notices in them a mental flexibility and a willingness to try new and different things. She gave examples of how this cultural awareness has led to an advantage when it comes to being admitted into Brown.

I am a firm believer that world citizens are not grown overnight. They have an attitude and mindset that is groomed over time. It is never too early to start being global minded. In my first years with Global Language Project when we first launched our program, we created mock passports for all of our students. Each week, when students completed a task, we gave them a stamp in their passports. In America, where just over one-third of Americans have passports, it is important that we begin introducing the idea of international travel early. Even if it is not through real travel, we can use the imaginations of our children and take them on trips using stories and pictures and by visiting sites of different countries via the Web. While traveling abroad would be ideal, with technology we don’t have to let distance or resources keep us from grooming the next generation to be global citizens. The key is to start now . . . one new step can go a long way!

Angela Jackson is the founder of the Global Language Project, a nonprofit program that teaches youth a second language while preparing them and empowering them to compete in a global workforce. Learn more at globallanguageproject.org. Follow Angela Jackson on Twitter at @angjack.

 

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