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