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How can Americans make our country stronger, kinder, smarter? By marshaling our enviable can-do ethic and learning another language. We can do it, no matter what our age: author Steve Leveen chose Spanish as his adopted language in midlife. America's Bilingual Century is filled with tips for learning a language, some mechanical--like changing your phone and laptop settings to your adopted language--and some philosophical. For instance, start by having a place in your life where you'll use the language, Steve says. The "where" makes the "how" more attainable. And recognize that, as with any adoption, you do it for love, and for life--so don't fret when you're not fluent in five months.
If you have kids, start them young. You'll be glad you did when you read about the explosive growth of dual language schools across the country and the significant, measurable advantages they give our young people. Steve also takes us to the top summer language immersion camps, for both children and adults. And he shares his findings from leading language scholars, teachers, sociolinguists, app creators, and bilinguals of all stripes that he discovered during his dozen years of research.
Then he topples 12 myths about Americans and languages that no longer hold in this century. Like thinking the whole world speaks English (it doesn't), that being monolingual is natural (it isn't), and that Americans suck at language (quite the opposite, as he demonstrates). Here and now in the 21st century, America is embracing its many ethnic and cultural heritages. How natural, then, that we enfold the many languages that these heritages thrive on as part of that quintessentially American pursuit of happiness.
If you've never thought of bilingualism as being a patriotic act, America's Bilingual Century may persuade you otherwise. Knowing a second language changes the way we perceive the world, and the way the world perceives us. "English is what unites us," Steve says. "Our other languages are what define and strengthen us."
And even if becoming bilingual leans more toward aspiration than arrival, that's okay. The journey is as rewarding as the destination.