When I was brainstorming with Alex about multilingualism to prepare the interview for the Congreso Online Montessori 2018, I realised something important: I always thought about languages as a way to communicate with other people of different cultures, but that’s not the reason why I wanted my kids to be multilingual.
The real reason (apart from the scientific benefits Multilingualism gives the brain) is that I know what it means to speak more languages but not be multilingual, not have learnt those languages from birth.
Speaking a language is not just knowing the words and being able to put them together: a language is a window onto the culture behind the language, the geography of its country, the history of its people, their traditions, habits, their way of thinking even.
The other day my friend Marisa said something that made a lot of sense to me: Bella (almost 4) doesn’t just speak English and Spanish, she becomes English or Spanish according to the language she’s speaking. She’s quieter and more polite (according to her standards) in English and she’s louder and more chaotic in Spanish (we live in the south of Spain ;-).
When you learn a language from birth, you don’t just acquire a new way of communicating, you acquire a new mother tongue and a new culture.
Maria Montessori’s main goal was to raise a generation of people who believed in (and lived for) peace. If we think about it this way, Multilingualism can become yet another tool for educating towards peace.
In fact, languages can be walls or bridges between cultures and by teaching our kids more than one language from birth, we’re exposing them to different cultures, we’re wiring them to be more tolerant, more understanding, more respectful of the “different”, to be less nationalistic and more citizens of the world. In a few words, we’re giving them the tools to build bridges between cultures, which is yet another small step towards peace.