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双语:孩子几岁学外语才合适?

20年前,幼儿园里的小朋友还在跟着老师学习汉语拼音,而今天,已经有越来越多的幼儿园开始教授外语课程。过早的外语教学在社会上也引起了一些争议。学习外语,多早算太早?不仅是中国的父母,全世界的父母似乎都有这样的困惑。



  For the past few months, my three-year-old daughter has spent an hour every week learning a foreign language.

  近几个月来,我3岁的女儿每周会学一个小时的外语。

  She tells us little about the classes. In fact, for the first few weeks, nothing at all. I begin to wonder if it was a huge mistake (each lesson works out at about 9 pounds) but then I show her “La Vaca Lola” on YouTube. She shouts vaca with enthusiasm, and with what I hope is a Spanish accent.

  她很少跟我们讲都学了什么。事实上,头几周她什么都没说。我开始怀疑这可能是个巨大的错误(算下来,每节课要交9英镑学费)。不过后来当我在YouTube上给她放“La Vaca Lola”,她会兴奋地大喊“Vaca”——我希望她说的是西班牙语。

  The desire to enrol her in language lessons came, like most things, gradually and then in a sudden, panicked rush. In my day job, I read and edit stories about the Chinese economy, the rusting American heartland and Britain’s faltering Brexit negotiations. For a long time, I felt that it would be good for her to learn another language but I had no great plan as to when.

  让她上外语课这件事就跟大多数事一样,先是逐渐起了念头,然后仓皇之间一下子就做了决定。我平常负责阅读和编辑新闻报道,内容涉及中国经济、不断锈化的美国腹地,以及英国拖泥带水的脱欧谈判。很早以前我就觉得学一门外语对她有好处,但我没有制定过完整的计划,比方说什么时候开始学。

  Then I read a colleague’s book (Edward Luce’s The Retreat of Western Liberalism) and all my latent thoughts and anxiety about the economy, politics and the rise of the far right coalesced into an incoherent middle-of-the-night panic. Waking in a sweat, it seemed obvious that if my daughter was to have any kind of future, she would have to learn another language. Ideally, immediately.

  然后我读到了一本同事写的书——爱德华.卢斯(Edward Luce)的《西方自由主义的撤退》(The Retreat of Western Liberalism)——这本书将我对经济、政治和极右翼势力崛起的所有潜在思想和焦虑,通通化为一次惊慌失措的午夜惊魂。我满身大汗地惊醒,前景已经很明确了,如果我女儿还想有未来可言,她必须学一门外语。而理想的学习时间是,马上。

  I thought about Mandarin Chinese, one of the top 10 languages most important for our future, according to the British Council (others include Arabic, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Dutch and Japanese). But there were no classes for toddlers nearby. There were, however, local Spanish classes — the number-one language on the list. When she started to sing “Incy Wincy Spider” in Spanish and English — helped by a Hispanic nursery worker — our decision was made.

  我考虑过让她学中文,这是英国文化教育协会(British Council)提出的未来我国十大重要外语之一,其他还有阿拉伯文、法文、德文、葡萄牙文、意大利文、俄文、荷兰文和日文。但我家附近没有中文幼儿培训班。不过有西班牙语班,这可是排在榜单首位的外语。当我女儿在一位拉美裔幼教工作者的帮助下,开始用西班牙语和英语唱“小小蜘蛛”(Incy Wincy Spider)时,我们下了决定。

  I told myself that she was growing up in a multicultural world — one in five primary schoolchildren in England are exposed to a language other than English at home, and in at least one London borough this figure rises to about 75 per cent. She needed to be equipped for the future.

  我告诉自己她成长在一个多元文化世界,英国有五分之一的小学生在家里能接触到一门外语,而伦敦地区至少有一个自治市的这个比例超出75%。她需要为未来做好准备。

  Still, a few people grimaced when I told them about the classes and I wondered if she was too young to start formal learning. But I felt backed up by the weight of research. The earlier children learn a language, the better.

  不过,当我说起孩子上外语课这件事,有些人会露出怪怪的表情,我自己也怀疑她现在就开始正式学外语会不会太小。但研究成果给了我支持:儿童越早学习外语越好。

  “Babies all over the world are what I like to describe as citizens of the world. They can discriminate all the sounds of all languages,” says Patricia Kuhl, a professor of speech and hearing, in her TED talk, “The linguistic genius of babies”. “We [adults] can discriminate the sounds of our own language, but not those of foreign languages. So the question arises: when do those citizens of the world turn into the language-bound listeners that we are? And the answer: before their first birthdays.”

  言语及听觉学教授帕特里夏.库尔(Patricia Kuhl)在她的TED演讲“婴儿的语言天赋”中说过:“我喜欢把世界各地的宝宝们称为世界公民。他们可以辨别所有语言的所有发音。我们成年人可以辨别我们母语的发音,但辨别不了外语的发音。于是问题来了:那些世界公民们是从什么时候开始变成像我们这样受制于语言的听众呢?答案是:从他们周岁之前。”

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