For a look into the story of “The Bilingual Bicycle,” check out a copy of our full transcript. Or, click here for a copy of the paper edit.
OPENING MONTAGE: multiple languages overlapping one another
“Bi.lin.gual Bi.cy.cle: The process of learning two languages that are well developed and balanced.”
CATHRENE CONNERY: With bilingual children as well as adults, if the first language is not as fully developed, you would have kind of almost like a unicycle, where you would have a small front wheel and a large back wheel. The same thing is true as a lot of people in the bilingual studies would say, if the first language is really extended and developed but the second language is underdeveloped, what we find is that the child can’t go or the learner can’t go as quickly. Really the goal in bilingual studies is we’ve learned we need to develop both languages well. We need to develop both languages so they’re strong in terms of basic communication, as well as academic languages, or the language of the school, and we need to develop some of those cultural competencies that really will take that bike or take those language features that will allow the child to be able to interact across different contexts.
PART ONE: TRAINING WHEELS
CONNERY: By immersing children and learners into a meaningful environment where they’re engaged in meaningful tasks, that’s really the best way for all kids and all learners to really acquire a second, a third, a fourth language.
(After school Spanish program at Belle Sherman Elementary School)
NICOLE AROCHO-HERNANDEZ (translation): To learn languages when you are young is fundamental. I learned Spanish and English together from when I was five years old, and I learned naturally without any problems. Now, I consider both of them my first language. But now, I am trying to learn Italian and Thai. Now that I am an adult, it’s more difficult because when you are young, your brain is more malleable and you absorb the material more, like you’re a sponge.
-This is a bird.
-And, what is the color in your hand?
-Why are you studying Spanish?
-Because I like Spanish a lot.
-Because my momma is Spanish, and my momma likes Spanish and I like Spanish also.
ROCIO ZEPP: I think this program is fantastic because it’s helping me help her be who she is, Latina.
ANDIRA CLAIRBORNE: I think you should take Spanish because it’s a very cool language, and if you want to go, I’m going, so… If you want to then you could see me after school.
LESLYN MCBEAN CLAIRBONE: Well Andira has, oh my gosh since a very young age, expressed an aptitude and interest in foreign languages. Every language that she can pick up she tries to pick up. I will say she comes by it honestly. I come from a different country where language, a different language, it was emphasized. You had to learn at least two, if not three, different languages. In this global society and even more so today than when I was in school, it is so important.
PART TWO: RIDING SOLO
(Ithaca High School)
CONNERY: Our primary interactions with other human beings are through language, so not only does it go to show, that children and all learners would acquire languages in relationship.
(Ithaca High School international club meeting)
MONICA RIGUCCI: My name is Monica Rigucci and I am learning Chinese for my first time this year. Because I have so many international friends and being a part of international club, I’ve met so many people from so many different countries that I’ve never even heard of before. It was kind of crazy, but I had never even heard of Burma before I joined international club.
Learning a language… it’s hard at first, but in the end I feel like it is totally worth it. Being able to talk with the people that you’ve been friends with — and not only in English — would feel amazing.
(Classroom natural sound)
CLAY POE: My name is Clay Poe, and I’m from Burma. I didn’t speak any English, so it’s really difficult when I came to the United States. When I’m in school, I notice I learn more English, and when I go home, I speak my native language because my mom doesn’t speak much English, and I still help her learn.
SHELIA BOWMAN: Any time a student — whether they’re ESL or whether they’re not — can have something real life in front of them, it makes meaning for them. Especially for ESL students, because if they can touch it and see it and do with it whatever we’re working on, it makes language acquisition that much easier.
CONNERY: Each child will go through the phases at different rates and different speeds, but what we do know is if they have that support, if they have support in the native language literacy and in their English language development in the schools, then they’ll be able to advance much more quickly.
PART THREE: FUTURE DESTINATIONS
CONNERY: What we say now is that younger is easier, but older is better. The reason why young children can pick up those languages so quickly is that they kind of don’t have a lot of those hang-ups that adults have.
(Italian teaching assistant session, with Italian international student Giulia Dwight, Ithaca College)
GIULIA DWIGHT: As a teacher’s assistant, I meet with students who are taking Italian, either level 1 or level 2, one hour a week and we go over what they learned in class. My role is not to teach them, my role is simply to make them repeat. The first one or two classes were pretty hard, but once they learned the basics and how to ask me questions in Italian, it became easier.
I think that knowing a second language, or a third, it’s important, number one if you want to travel. Number two, I think that knowing a second language, in my experience, opens people to one’s culture.
(Classroom natural sound)
(WB&A Market Research on the Ithaca Commons)
CHAU NGUYEN: My name is Chau Nguyen, and I’m a junior studying Integrated Marketing Communications. I work at WB&A Market Research firm, so my job is a telephone interviewer. My job basically is to read verbatim, so I guess that’s not hard, but when people refuse to do the survey or to continue with the conversation and ask you different questions that’s not really scripted, then that’s when you have to really use your language and talk to them. That was difficult for me.
(Translation): When calling a person I would say in Vietnamese, “hello, may I speak with so and so…”
English is not my first language, so sometimes I still stumble through words. It’s another language, so it’s difficult for me to use it as a native speaker. For me, just learning English has created so many more opportunities.
(Career Services Modern Languages event, Ithaca College)
JOHN BRADAC: I think having a second language — and I don’t care what it is — does something that goes beyond the standard. I’m making some assumptions when I say that, because you’re talking about a second language, so if I have language skills in Spanish, clearly it’s relating to the Spanish culture, but it’s also understanding another culture and society and a part of the bigger world, if you will.
DWIGHT: I think they would appreciate much more if you made an effort to learn their language…
NGUYEN: It’s an asset. It’s a value…
KASSIE WAHLSTROM: The more and more that I’ve learned it, the more I’ve realized how useful it is to me…
AMENA FARLEY: I think it really helps out no matter what career you go in…
ISABELLA ZEPP: Because I love Spanish a lot…
MONICA RIGUCCI: It’s hard at first, but in the end, it’s totally worth it.