How much does it "cost" to become multilingual?

Who gets to be trilingual? The situation always seems to present itself as such: one parent speaks one minority language and the other parent another minority language and they live somewhere, where the majority language is spoken.

What about those parents who are monolingual? What about parents who are both what they call heritage speakers of a minority language, like myself? What about parents who would LOVE for their children to speak more than one language, but can’t afford to send them to private foreign language schools? This is one of the very reason why I don’t play an instrument, for example. My parents did not have the financial means to send me to lessons, let alone rent or buy and instrument. I got to dance ballet, but only because the classes were by donation.

I feel fortunate that we have the option to send our daughter to a foreign language school. As much as I advocate for multilingualism I also have to acknowledge that there are individuals for whom this is not an option.

The city I live in, Austin,Texas, has finally implemented dual language education in our public schools. A selected few schools were chosen, but hopefully others will follow. This kind of education, where bilingualism is the goal, has been one our local community has advocated for several years. I guess you can say the larger community is starting to find value in multilingualism or that all it can sometimes take is a savvy, younger, open-minded superintendent to catch on to the idea of bilingualism as a goal. So, again, I pose the question, what about those cities where dual language education is not an option in the public schools? It was only a few years ago where this was the case in my progressive, university-town of a city. The only schools that existed were fairly expensive private ones.

There’s more to considering how much it costs to become bilingual or trilingual. As I have been researching private day cares for our baby I have learned that private-language schools cost a little more than your regular private schools. In fact, these private language day care schools are in such demand that I find myself weighing the “costs”, and not just in monetary terms, but in other ways, such as teachers that seem more like “ninieras” than actual teachers. When thinking about how much it costs to becoming multilingual I am referring to multiple sentidos. There’s the extra financial burden and then there’s the fact that the foreign languages schools are limited in scope, therefore limited in how particular parents can be when thinking about other factors such as teaching philosophy, cleaningness, distance from home, or student to teacher ratios.

No matter where we stand in our plight for multilingual education one thing remains the same: the importance of continuing to advocate for dual language education so that everyone has the option and not have to weigh out the costs.

*Originally published on Feb. 10, 2011 on the Spanglish Baby website.

3 responses to “How much does it "cost" to become multilingual?”

  1. you are right, we have to become advocates for our communities and make it happen, we don’t have bilingual education here in Southwest Florida, it looks like a very far future, but our community is growing and I think every time we show out in our communities, working hard and educating bilingual children, is like an mind opener for many who don’t know the benefits of knowing two languages better than one.

  2. GLENN T. BERNARD Avatar

    I’m entertained to hear your assumption that one needs expensive lessons or special schooling to become multi-lingual! I am tri-lingual and self-taught. I can read-write-speak with tolerable fluency in Spanish, French and English, and the total cost of my education over the years has probably been less than $100. How did I do it? Recordings and books, plus fearless practice whenever I found myself among foreign language speakers (i.e being willing to make an utter jackass of myself.) Sure, it required some work — just like learning sports — but in this case the payoff is unbeatable. How good am I? I often joke that I am “illiterate in three languages” , plus a little Italian and a tiny sprinkling of Arabic. On the other hand, I have written award-winning translations of foreign classics, and continue to lead an unusually extensive cultural life. The simple truth is: Anyone could do what I have done.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Glenn. I was just reading a book for one of my course titled, Second Language Acquisition (SLA), which can include multiple languages not just two when referring to the SLA term. At any rate, I thought about your comment and I think what it comes down to is the way you define “bilingual or multilingual”…Yes, you are multilingual and sure you do not need to spend a lot of money in courses or school in order to get there. I am in agreement that if you can utter words, phrases, even speak another language to any degree, then you are multilingual. What I was getting at in my post was the time, cost, and effort it takes to raise multilingual children to a level of proficiency that is like a native speaker of whatever language they are learning. According to research, it takes consistent exposure and sending my baby to an immersion school is the only way to do that, for my family, while living in central Texas.

    Thanks again for your thoughts! I enjoyed reading your perspective.

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