Tai Chi Fan

Q&A with Stacie Berdan

International careers expert and author Stacie Berdan discusses how second language learning contributes to raising a global child.

November 18, 2014

After writing several successful books about global thinking and action in adulthood, why did you and your husband decide to write a book about instilling global awareness in children?

I have spent the last seven years criss-crossing the country speaking on campuses, large and small. Throughout my conversations with professors and students, I realized that the vast majority of students do not arrive on campus globally aware, do not realize how globalization affects their lives and careers, are not planning on studying abroad and were not prepared to live and work in a global world. That made me realize that it has to start earlier. In order to make a real difference and best prepare college graduates for the global world we live in, we must help them develop a global mindset earlier.

As parents, we all want what’s best for our children, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is to prepare them to thrive in this globally connected world. But that doesn’t mean we know how to deal with the challenges associated with it – or know how to help our children make the most of the opportunities presented by it. To become global citizens, they must learn how to communicate and interact with people around the around. Our collective economic future depends on it. We believe in empowering youth with the knowledge, skills and awareness necessary to becoming global citizens, and we are passionate about making a difference.

Mike and I wrote Raising Global Children, a combination parenting-advocacy book, to help both parents and teachers understand what raising global children means, why raising global children is important and how to develop a global mindset. In addition, the book can be used as an advocacy tool to help change the status quo, for example, pushing for language learning to begin in elementary school and infusing the K-12 curriculum with global learning so that all subjects are taught through a global lens.

Raising global children is not all that difficult, and it doesn’t have to cost all that much money. But it does require a shift in thinking. To help create that shift, we believed that a combination of personal experience and research with like-minded souls would be the most effective. Mike and I are global souls and have lived, worked and traveled around the world, witnessing the importance of having a global mindset. So when we had our twin daughters – now teenagers – we decided that we wanted to raise them to become global citizens. But to demonstrate that this was not just our opinion, we conducted both quantitative and qualitative research with thousands of respondents and the results were gratifying. The book is sprinkled with research, and the one-on-one interviews we did with contributors were my favorite part of writing the book.

Why do you believe that second language learning is such an important part of raising a global child?

Learning a language is more than just communicating; it helps us learn about another culture and enables us to cross cultural bounds more easily, appreciating and understanding difference. It also enhances cognitive abilities. Research has proven that it makes one “smarter” and strengthens math, science and even English language abilities. Being able to speak another language increasingly helps people get jobs and can fast-track careers. Knowing at least one other language will make a big difference. But it takes time to learn another language – it doesn’t happen in a few years in high school or college. So we recommend parents make it a top priority and help their children learn a language beginning as early as kindergarten because the earlier a child starts, the more likely that he or she will become proficient. Sadly, the United States is the only industrialized nation where the vast majority of high schools and colleges award diplomas without a second language requirement.

What are some primary ways that parents can foster language skills and proficiency in their children?

Parents must be committed to helping their child become proficient in a second language which means starting as early as possible, preferably in infancy, whether a parent speaks another language or not. If parents do, they should speak to their children in both languages beginning as early as possible, treating all languages as equally important through speaking, reading, songs, games and music. For parents who don’t, they should seek to expose their children to others in their life who do, such as grandparents, nannies and other caregivers and teachers.

Seek out schools and language camps for children beginning as early as preschool, and choose elementary schools that have language programs. If the local school does not have language programs, advocate for one to be added as early as possible and extend through high school; K-12 is ideal. Support the new initiative for the “Seal of Biliteracy,” a program being rolled out in many states to enable students who speak more than one language to have an additional achievement listed on their high school transcript after having tested at a certain level in English and a second language. As children get older, encourage them to attend language camps, go on exchange programs in high school, and study abroad while in college.

What are the benefits of immersion to language learning?

Becoming proficient in a second language is a lifelong goal, and the quickest way to achieve it is through immersion. It’s how babies learn to speak, surrounded by a language at all times. Instead of teaching a language in one 40-50 minutes class, immersion programs in schools teach all subjects in both English and the second language thereby socializing the students to adopt both languages for all classroom communication and learning. Immersion language camps create a setting in which just the target language is used in all forms of communication, thus enhancing a student’s ability to communicate proficiently in that language. Immersion is not just speaking, though, it also includes communicating within the appropriate culture and atmosphere.

Learn more about Stacie's book Raising Global Children on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' website.

Erin McCormick
Originally a Jersey girl, Erin fled the traffic of the tri-state area for the quaint town of Middlebury for college and never left. She runs Middlebury Interactive’s marketing team, where her passions for technology, languages, writing and design collide. When she’s not tweeting new marketing trends or critiquing TV advertisements, she’s likely shopping on Etsy, road tripping on the back roads of Vermont or sampling craft beers.
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